The thing about a liability on any male sports team is that you can never be too sure he’s reformed.
No matter how reformed he is said to be, no matter how many people declare him a changed man, anyone watching is still thinking, “When’s his next outburst coming?”
So why, then, has USC been so quick to excuse senior tailback Marc Tyler’s offseason antics with the presumption he has matured? Sure, Tyler’s series of indiscretions culminating in his verbal diarrhea spewed to TMZ cameras this summer was possibly instigated by irresponsible alcohol consumption, but that’s no excuse for defiling the image of the team and university. Not to mention, the fifth-year senior had two alcohol-related incidents in the months prior.
Coaches and administrators will watch Tyler carefully for the rest of the season, no matter how much they claim he has improved in regards to his personal life, for there’s always the possibility of a backslide. But the Trojans do have an advantage to combating another incident by Tyler.
They don’t need him.
Though it’s difficult to say a team can ever have an embarrassment of riches, USC comes pretty close to it in the backfield, and it needs to start spending.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan looked impressive in his start against Minnesota, averaging more than four yards per carry. Sophomore Dillon Baxter seems poised to capitalize on all that potential observers are raving about. And junior Curtis McNeal has shown some promise as well.
The common theme among these players? They’re not seniors. Tyler is.
While this season’s games are certainly important, the reality of ineligibility for postseason play still puts a damper on the year. Accordingly, it might make some sense to begin making preparations for next season — and where better to start than with the primary ball carrier?
This is Tyler’s last season with the Trojans. His playing time ends after this season. The other trio, though — which might even span to Amir Carlisle, who wowed coaches during the initial weeks of fall camp — can still have bowl aspirations.
That’s why it’s time to work them in. They need the on-field game experience. They need the reps. If USC is looking for a tailback to help carry the team like so many have done at “Tailback U,” they’ll need to develop him.
Morgan and Baxter fit the candidacy.
Of course it’s no assumption that either can match the pedigree of the running backs before them, but there’s no way to find out unless they play.
Maybe Tyler could be the team’s next 1,000-yard rusher. After all, he had 913 yards on the ground last season. What is certain, though, is he won’t be for more than one limited season.
Putting Tyler back in a role on the team in which his impact on and off the field has a ceiling but no floor is a risky proposition.
The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke commented on Tyler’s reserved and collected attitude last Saturday against Utah, noting that his suspension evidently resonated with him to some degree.
That said, there’s no doubt Tyler was on his best behavior in his first game back, patiently aware of the scrutiny he was dealing with from fans, coaches and teammates.
USC coach Lane Kiffin was right to say how proud he was of Tyler’s apparent maturation, but it’s unlikely he would have commented in kind had Tyler not rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
An athlete’s great play has routinely eschewed their punishments, as coaches often find the choice between accountability for players and excellence on the field to be an easy one. And if Tyler continues to play and put up impressive numbers, his leash might just get a little looser.
Then, when he’s in his new-found comfort zone, something might slip out, maybe putting Kiffin in an awkward position.
But then there’s an alternative.
Give Morgan and Baxter those carries. See how they do. Let Tyler continue to mature on and off the sideline. If Kiffin still can’t live without Tyler’s expected production in a few weeks, maybe throw him back in.
With the development of sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and junior Matt Barkley’s ever-improving arm, it’s not as if the running game is going to carry all that much of the load anyway.
What Tyler must realize now is that he has put himself in a position in which his next mistake could be his last. He doesn’t need another issue, and the team most certainly can’t have another one. An indispensable player would have leverage in this situation.
But Tyler is hardly indispensable.
“Suicide Blitz” runs Thursdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org.