Play of football newcomers impresses coaches

It sounded for a bit like USC coach Lane Kiffin was going to say he was excited about his team.

“To watch our team, we do have some star players,” Kiffin said. “We do have some legitimate NFL star players. But there’s such a gap between those guys and … the bottom of our roster.”

He’s back · Senior running back Marc Tyler returned to practice Tuesday after suffering a hamstring injury the first day of spring training. - Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

Kiffin said he feels although there is a lot of skill within the team right now, they really lack depth, identifying only seven “great” players.

Sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods was mentioned first, followed by junior quarterback Matt Barkley, senior tight end Rhett Ellison, junior defensive end Nick Perry, junior safety T.J. McDonald, sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey and junior safety Tony Burnett.

Beyond that, however, Kiffin is not terribly pleased with his team right now.

“Our challenge is to develop those [lower starters], get the new guys to come in here, get the injured guys back and develop a team,” Kiffin said. “Because right now we would not be a very good team.”

Dealing with a disproportionate number of injuries and illnesses this spring, Kiffin said he is eager to get to the fall.

“We’re excited for the fall with all the new guys coming in,” he said. We have 22 new guys. But we have a lot of work to do to develop into a team instead of just having four or five star players.”

Kiffin did note, however, he was pleased that many of the players performing best this spring are young.

Today, that included redshirt freshman safety Patrick Hall, who had a pair of interceptions. Hall picked off redshirt freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins during the scrimmage after jumping in front of a Barkley pass in a special teams drill.

“Patrick [Hall] had a really good day,” Kiffin said. “He was matched up against Robert [Woods] and he shut him down.”

Hall’s play was representative of practice as a whole for the defense. The offense didn’t score a touchdown in the scrimmage, and the depleted and injury-plagued offensive line was overwhelmed in the trenches, getting no push on running plays and forcing the quarterbacks to rush their throws.

“[The] biggest question mark that hasn’t been answered is the offensive line,” Kiffin said. We have one legitimate college player there right now in [junior tackle] Matt [Kalil], and none of the other guys have played a legitimate snap of college football ever. There’s a lot of work to do there.”

The offensive line will return just two of five starters in Kalil and junior center Khaled Holmes, who is out for the spring with a neck injury.

Senior tailback Marc Tyler was back at practice Tuesday after injuring his hamstring in the team’s first practice of the spring.

Tyler wore full pads and participated in basic running back drills but appeared to be running a little gingerly. He sat out all contact activities, including the scrimmage.

Junior defensive end Wes Horton and senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou participated in full team drills for the first time this spring.

Tupou, however, left practice early after getting “banged on the knee,” according to Kiffin. He did not seem worried, though.

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