USC is starting to take its gloves off in its treatment of star sophomore receiver Robert Woods, he who has had lingering injuries affect his practice time in the early part of this 2011 season.
But opponents are starting to put their gloves on.
Each of the first two weeks, the Trojans held Woods out of the lighter Thursday practice to make sure he was healthy for gameday, and it worked. He had 17 catches, a school record, in the opener, and 10 more in Saturday's game against Utah. But this Thursday he was treated like a regular participant throughout practice, going full-go in 7-on-7, team drills and individuals.
The reasoning? (1) He's finally just about fully healthy, and (2) He's probably going to need a little more work in practice now, because teams aren't going to give him as many opportunities in game situations any more. If you thought Utah's coverage was a little snug, wait until you see what Syracuse does Saturday. Orange coach Doug Marrone said Woods was "probably the best player in the country at his position."
Most coaches don't allow the best players in the country to run loose. It's a good bet that he'll be double- and triple-teamed all night long at the Coliseum.
The questions with Woods now becomes these: Can he consistently produce as the focal point of the offense? Can he help his teammates get more opportunities by attracting more defenders? The answer to the first one is probably going to be yes, if the Utah game is any indicator. Woods still found a way to surpass 100 yards receiving in that contest. But the second is still up for debate, and, of course, it doesn't depend solely on him.
The teammates themselves must step up. But Woods just has to keep up what he's been doing.
"I thought Robert played really well in the [Utah] game," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "But it does kind of get lost in there after a guy sets the school record in Week 1.
"If a guy can catch eight passes for over 100 yards every week, we'll take it."
The Trojans will also take catches like the one Woods made during Thursday's practice, easily the play of the day, when he leaped and reached up with one hand to grab a Matt Barkley pass and corralled it in.