Practice report: Trojans back on the grind

LOS ANGELES -- After more than a week away, the Trojans were back at work in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Saturday in preparation for the team’s Hyundai Sun Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech. USC head coach Lane Kiffin was pleased in general with what he saw.

“Good to get back out here after players taking finals, and classes and coaches out recruiting,” Kiffin said. “Good to have Marqise [Lee] back out here after a while off. It didn’t look like he’s missed a beat. There were a number of big plays today and I thought the defense did a great job early on, led by Hayes Pullard.”

Kiffin glad to still have Martin

It’s safe to assume that there were some nervous moments inside the John McKay Center last week, as Tee Martin mulled over a job offer from his alma mater, Tennessee. Fortunately for Kiffin and Co., the highly regarded wide receivers coach decided to remain at USC, a move that figures to pay off for USC not just because of Martin’s ability as a coach, but because of his talents as a recruiter as well.

“It would have been tough to replace him as a coach, it would have been tough to replace him as a recruiter, and certainly we couldn’t have replaced the relationships that he’s already developed with recruits and with players,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to lose him some day because he’s going to be a head coach here pretty soon, but I’m glad we didn’t lose him quite yet.”

Barkley not ready yet

Matt Barkley did not practice on Saturday as he still recovers from a sprained AC joint suffered against UCLA on Nov. 17, but Kiffin does anticipate the senior quarterback to return to action once the team arrives in El Paso for their bowl week workouts on Dec. 26. In his place, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler once again saw extensive time running the offense.

“We don’t expect Matt to practice until we get down there to the bowl game, so we’ve been splitting reps with these two -- much like we will in the spring -- and we’re really giving them both shots with the ones and twos just like we will when we get back to the spring,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin also noted that if, in fact, Barkley is unable to ultimately go against the Yellow Jackets, Wittek -- who started against the Bruins -- would get the nod over Kessler against Georgia Tech.

“This is just part of the eventual competition of who is the next starter next year, but we would not flip them right now,” Kiffin said.

Making a move

One benefit that goes along with the extra practice time that comes with participating in a bowl game is the added opportunity for the younger and less experienced players to gain notice in workouts. On Saturday, Kiffin noted that there have been a couple of lesser-known Trojans who have caught his eye with standout performances, most notably sophomore receiver George Farmer.

“I think George Farmer has had three really good days, which is great to see,” Kiffin said. “Not just one, but he’s put together three in a row, and hopefully that will continue. And I think Victor Blackwell has done similar things those three days as well, and flashed at times.”

Additional notes

  • Among the recruits in attendance at Saturday’s practice were defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy), safety Leon McQuay III (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) and offensive lineman Desmond Harrison (San Pablo, Calif./Contra Costa C.C.) -- all on official visits -- as well as USC-committed receiver Steven Mitchell (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany), who was visiting on an unofficial with his family.

  • There was a large LAPD presence on campus on Saturday with parts of campus blocked off and a helicopter hovering over practice throughout the day. When asked about the nuisance, Kiffin jokingly noted, “I just thought that was for the bowl game, that they wanted to get some extra TV film, and so it wasn’t a distraction at all.”