After senior tailback Marc Tyler pulled his hamstring during Tuesday’s practice, freshman tailback D.J. Morgan was forced to bow out midway through Saturday’s practice due to what USC coach Lane Kiffin termed “knee tendinitis.”
For a team already decimated by injuries, the decision to pull Morgan out of practice was precautionary, as the coaching staff feared the wet grass might have been hazardous for Morgan, who has been recovering from a torn ACL injury he suffered during his senior year of high school.
These two injuries allowed junior Curtis McNeal and sophomore Dillon Baxter to receive more repetitions at tailback. McNeal noticeably outshined the more celebrated Baxter, at least on this day, breaking off several runs of at least 10 yards, while Baxter was often stopped at the line of scrimmage.
“Both of them have had great attitudes this spring,” Kiffin said. “Curtis, once he was ineligible last season, really hit him. Sometimes guys have to hit rock-bottom before they figure it out. His attitude’s been great comparable to when he got here.”
Although McNeal flashed explosiveness, Kiffin was non-committal when asked if McNeal figured into the tailback competition. Instead, Kiffin foresees McNeal as more of a special teams standout who also must become academically eligible for the upcoming season.
A glaring weakness for the Trojans this past season was their mediocre pass defense. Though two of the positions in the secondary are set with junior free safety T.J. McDonald and sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey returning, the competition to secure both the strong safety spot and the cornerback position opposite Robey are wide-open, with no shortage of candidates.
Freshman cornerback Anthony Brown impressed coaches Saturday with an interception return for a touchdown and deflections.
“He’s really worked extremely hard since the day that he got here,” Kiffin said. “He’s not a great paper guy. He’s not height-weight-speed ratio, but he made a bunch of plays in high school, and hopefully he can continue to do what he did today.”
Brown said he feels much more comfortable with the USC defensive schemes in the second year of his career, but still struggles with breaking to the ball quickly enough on occasion.