Former starters find new niche on special teams

Three games into USC’s season, redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo and senior tailback C.J. Gable can barely be found on the stat sheet.

Persistence · Senior tailback Allen Bradford bounced back from an early season knee injury to invigorate the Trojans’ rushing attack. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

Although the two seniors had at times been starters under former coach Pete Carroll, they have struggled to find playing time in their respective roles as linebacker and tailback under new coach Lane Kiffin.

Instead, Kiffin moved both of them to the special teams unit, which Carroll mostly treated as an afterthought.

Kiffin pays more attention to special teams than his predecessor and saw a place where former starters could make an impact on the team. He said he is impressed with how Galippo and Gable have handled their new roles — even though they include less playing time.

“Those are steps to becoming a really good team, when you have older guys who aren’t playing as much as they have in the past and they go out and play like that,” Kiffin said. “C.J. had a huge block on the kickoff return and a huge tackle on kickoff coverage [last game]. Chris Galippo had a huge play on kickoff coverage to start the game, so it’s good to see guys like that understand how important it is, no matter what play, to have the same effort.”

For Galippo, the transition to being primarily a special teams player wasn’t easy, but he has learned to embrace his new role.

“I’ve taken special teams pretty seriously and I’ve performed well on special teams,” Galippo said. “It’s just what I do. I prepare myself the best I can so that when I get in a game I have the opportunity to contribute to the team. As a player you learn how to develop into whatever your role on the team is, and as an older guy and veteran, I think I’m doing pretty well.”

Special teams coordinator John Baxter said he is impressed and pleased with the leadership that Galippo has shown on special teams. Galippo has emerged as de-facto captain for the unit, and the coaches have noticed his leadership.

“The thing that I believe in is that they didn’t sign up for linebacker, wide receiver or tailback. They signed up for football,” Baxter said. “All we’re doing is playing football and they’re really embracing these roles. This is a good advertisement for the things we’re teaching, which is toughness, discipline and team.”

Despite the strong performance by senior tailback Allen Bradford, Kiffin said he still doesn’t know who the starting running back will be this weekend.

Kiffin rotated all three running backs in practice Tuesday and said he’ll use the rest of the week to see how each player performs.

Incumbent redshirt junior starter Marc Tyler was benched last week when he fumbled the ball, giving Bradford the opportunity to get more playing time.

“Allen made the most of [his opportunity], so now he’s made it a very close competition,” Kiffin said. “We’ll figure it out throughout the week.”

Freshman safety Patrick Hall returned from suspension to practice with the team for the first time since the season started.

Hall was suspended five days before the Hawai’i game by Kiffin for unspecified reasons. Hall, a former five-star recruit and All-American in high school, could compete for playing time in the young secondary this season.

“He did everything we asked for in three weeks,” Kiffin said. “He really seems to have changed his attitude from downstairs in academics to upstairs with us. It’s good to see him change so it’s good to have him back.”