Marqise Lee will be used much more

Marqise Lee figures to have the ball in his hands plenty this season if Lane Kiffin has anything to do with it. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin doesn't take his own proclamations lightly, evidently.

Late last season, he said Marqise Lee had a chance to be the top receiver in school history, and he hasn't forgotten about it. So when he was asked after USC's Thursday practice about his plans to get Lee the ball this season, he quickly brought it up.

"If you're gonna make a statement that he may go down as the best receiver ever, you better make sure you put the ball in his hands," Kiffin said. "Ideally when we have really good players, we like them to touch the ball a lot.

He continued: "We're not a very good staff or a very good playcaller if he's not touching the ball."

Lee touched the ball a lot last season, with 73 catches, five rushes and 10 kick returns, but it's clear the Trojans have a lot more in store for him this season. Even with Robert Woods in the fold, he may end up being the focal point of the USC offense in 2012.

"I know it sounds pretty strong, but I think he was kinda dominating college football at the end of the year," Kiffin said. "You look at what he did against UCLA, he dominated the game, it was like a man playing amongst boys."

In November, Lee averaged almost 10 catches a game for more than 150 yards and 1.5 touchdowns. Those numbers were unmatched nationwide.

And, yet, Kiffin still says he thinks Lee can make a jump this year, much like the transition Woods made a year ago. He even pointed to Mike Williams' first-to-second-year jump as evidence Lee can get better.

Williams' numbers weren't that much better in Year 2 -- he had 10 more catches, 49 more yards and two touchdowns than he did in Year 1. But he was still a part of a national championship team as a sophomore, so that counts for something.

USC receivers coach Tee Martin said Lee's improvements have in part come because of Woods' offseason absence due to injury. With Woods out, it was Lee who attracted all the coaches' attention, and he embraced it.

"In a good way, when Robert was out, it allowed us to move Marqise to different positions and have him learn them," Martin said this week. "That helped him with his total understanding of everything."

Kiffin said he doesn't worry about his words affecting Lee's play. The sophomore is too focused on his play for that to be the case.

"He can handle it," Kiffin said. "I don't think you make statements like that if a kid has any question on his work ethic or you think it could go to his head.

"It doesn't. He's one of the hardest-working guys we've ever seen out here."