The middle linebacker competition rages on in spring practice for USC, with Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo fighting to take over the top spot at what coaches are calling the most important position on USC's defense. Kennard, a sophomore, and Galippo, a redshirt junior, combined to start 17 games at linebacker last year — with Galippo earning all 13 at the middle position.
Kennard, who came to USC as a defensive end but moved to strongside linebacker near the end of the 2009 season, said he was "up for it" as soon as the new coaching staff told him they were planning to switch him to the middle spot. He said he has enjoyed working alongside and against Galippo so far. "We're definitely working together, helping each other out, correcting each other, pushing each other," Kennard said. "We want to have the best linebacking corps possible. We all want to be out there and we're going to push each other every day."
A few other notes from the full-pads practice:
It was a defense-dominated day in team drills. Included in the highlight plays of the scrimmage were a Shareece Wright interception of a Mitch Mustain pass that looked to be intended for receiver Travon Patterson, and a T.J. Bryant end-zone pick of an ill-advised throw from Matt Barkley. Wright had a fairly dynamic return of his pick, taking it back almost to the opposite end zone. The biggest hit of the day came from receiver/tight end David Ausberry, who lit up walk-on corner Omari Crittenden after catching the ball near the line of scrimmage.
The injuries just continue to rack up for the Trojans. In his post-practice meeting with the media, Kiffin read them off quickly, then finished by saying: "Beat all your questions, didn't I?" The injuries he listed were: running back Dillon Baxter (quad), fullbacks Stanley Havili (shoulder) and D.J. Shoemate (hamstring), offensive linemen Matt Kalil (hip), Zack Heberer (ankle) and Martin Coleman (ankle), defensive tackle Hebron 'Loni' Fangupo (ankle), linebacker Marquis Simmons (spine) and safeties Ryan McMahon (stinger) and Marshall Jones (cervical spine). Jones' injury might be the most serious, as he missed the final nine games of 2009 because of a similar injury. Jones entered Howard Jones Field toward the end of practice in a neck brace. When asked if it was a similar injury, Kiffin said, "I don't know that."
The quarterback position is leaning toward the incumbent Barkley over the reserve Mustain, Kiffin has determined. Barkley, a sophomore to-be, has proved impressive in early play, appearing very calm in the pocket. "Matt would have an edge over Mitch right now, in what we've seen," Kiffin said Saturday. "But it's real early, and we'll continue to split the reps right down the middle like we have and let both guys alternate in there and see where it goes."
Two days after Kiffin called him the MVP of the first two spring practices, receiver Ronald Johnson struggled a bit in Saturday's drills. The senior dropped at least two passes, including a toe-tipper on the sidelines. Receiver Brice Butler had two touchdown grabs in team play, while running back Curtis "Moody" McNeal had both a drop and a solid grab while splitting out as a receiver.
The quote of the day, from Kennard on the new coaching staff's focus on toughness and discipline: "We're trying to go out there and bang as a defense and rekindle something we didn't have last year."
Here's more of what Kiffin had to say in his media congregation afterward: