All fall camp long, there have been four running backs on fairly equal footing competing to start Game 1 for the Trojans.
Then Marc Tyler came along Wednesday and shuffled it up a little bit. Tyler, a senior, was supposed to be this team's starting running back before he got involved in three off-field incidents in a matter of months and found himself suspended for the opener.
He's still suspended for that opener, and not yet officially reinstated to the team, but with Tyler in the fold again, the carries are being split differently. Coach Lane Kiffin and his staff must distribute the practice rushes between five players instead of four.
The players say that's a positive.
"It's good," said redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, the fastest of the bunch. "We're all having more fun and we're all getting more rest, so that's pretty much the best part about it."
Digging deeper, though, it's simple: with fewer carries available to the competitors, there are fewer opportunities to decide who deserves to take most of those carries in the season opener. And the Trojans must decide soon, because there are only nine days left until the season begins.
The four-man race goes like this: Curtis McNeal, a junior, is the dependable option. Sophomore Dillon Baxter is the most agile of the bunch but not as quick as the rest and not as consistent. Morgan is speedy but maybe still a but hurt from his 2009 knee injury, and freshman Amir Carlisle is the wildcard.
More likely than not, as Kiffin has stated in the past is his preference, two Trojans will split the majority of carries and one other player will get a few in select situations and late in games. That leaves one man out.
Carlisle's the best bet to be the last one, as the Trojans would clearly love to redshirt him if they could. But when Tyler comes back fully, that could change things. It really depends on how much confidence the coaches have in him, which remains to be seen.
"I don't think it affects it, really -- besides the rotation, because when more backs come we get more rest but less reps," Morgan said of Tyler's addition. "When there's less backs, I'm getting more reps, so I'm getting better, and I'm learning as I do it instead of learning watching somebody else do it."
As for Tyler, he was relegated to scout team drills Thursday for the second straight day, where he's been tasked with emulating Minnesota running back Donnell Kirkwood alongside freshman George Farmer, who's imitating Gopher quarterback Marqueis Gray.
Tyler is not allowed to speak to the media until he gets more acclimated to the team, a school spokesperson said, but he's looking fine on the practice field -- as well as a good 5-10 pounds lighter than he appeared in summer throwing sessions.
Tyler, 22, also has not yet been officially reinstated. Until he is, all of the coaches' comments on his progress will be tempered, as were Kiffin's when he was asked about Tyler on Thursday.
“He looks good,” the coach said. “Obviously [he’s making] the transition from working out to putting the pads on with players around, so we’re really trying to beat him up on service team and push him to make it game-like down there.
“It’s just part of the progression.”