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USC's Lane Kiffin: “ We Are a Long Ways from a Championship Team"

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USC's Lane Kiffin: “ We Are a Long Ways from a Championship Team
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

That was first-year head coach Lane Kiffin’s assessment at Friday’s presser prior today’s scrimmage at the Coliseum to conclude spring practice.

Kiffin pointed out that the running game has not been as consistent as he would like.  Aside from the Trojans’ top receiver, Ronald Johnson, who is nursing injuries this spring, none of the other receivers have stepped up to claim the No. 2 and No. 3 spots. 

It is the same case with the tight ends, where Rhett Ellison and Blake Ayles have been dealing with injuries and Jordan Cameron has moved over from wide receiver to see if he can help out.

The offensive line is suffering from a serious lack of depth with only seven healthy linemen able to go this spring.  So there is no first or second offensive unit, but all seven have been sharing duties.  In today’s concluding scrimmage at the Colosseum, for example, it wasn’t the first unit against the reserves but the offense against the defense.

Although Kiffin and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron have been pleased with the front four, the lack of depth at linebacker has Kiffin concerned as does the Trojan secondary. 

Except for returning senior Shareece Wright, a starting secondary has not been finalized.

Kiffin will wait until fall camp when he has all of his players before making any decisions. 

He mentioned that there are at least three incoming freshmen who can compete right away for the other corner and safety spots along with the nickel.  Also JC linebacker Glen Stanley, who played Division I at Bowling Green, could vie for serious playing time.

But like any long trek, USC’s journey to a championship begins with the first step.  And as first steps go, Kiffin’s have been strong ones.

He has instilled a sense of discipline both on and off the field as well as eliminated a sense of entitlement.  Players will now have to earn everything from playing time to special jersey numbers.

On the field, if a player commits a turnover, misses assignment or runs the wrong route, he has to do laps.  If a player is late for a class or an appointment with a tutor, he has to run with Coach Orgeron at 5:30 a.m.

Everything is business with Kiffin and his staff. 

Even though there is little in the way of fun ‘n games, there is even less Kool-Aid to clog up the works. Kiffin is not bashful about calling players out publicly and holding them accountable for loafing.  Loafs are even posted in the locker room and on the boards around Heritage Hall.

After the first half of today’s final scrimmage, Kiffin scolded the offense.  “We told them at halftime that we were going to take away their scholarships texts and give them to the fans who turned out today.”

But that doesn’t mean Kiffin is short on praise when he feels it is deserved.  He has been very positive when speaking about Matt Barkley and Ronald Johnson or the defensive line throughout spring practice. 

Also, after the final scrimmage, where Mitch Mustain threw for 299 yards and five scores, Kiffin said, “I think Mitch (Mustain) had a great 15 days and made it very competitive.  On a day to day basis, he didn’t make as many good decisions as Matt (Barkley) did.  But I’m really excited about those two.  I think we have two quarterbacks who can help us win. ”

Of course, the best first steps any new head coach in Division 1 can take are on the recruiting trail. 

Kiffin and his staff have headed out in leaps and bounds.  They landed what just might be the No. 1 recruiting class in 2010 and have started off great with the nation’s top quarterback, Max Wittek, and two top defensive lineman, Jalen Grimble and Antwuan Woods.

So, now it is onto the recruiting trail once again and then three months of reviewing spring practice tapes and game films of all of USC’s 2010 opponents.  Meanwhile, the players will hit the weight room and work on those early morning conditioning drills. 

Also, look for Matt and Mitch to put the guys through their paces in the informal summer practices prior to fall camp.  Most of the new recruits should be on hand by then.

I will have more on the Spring Game: A Tale of Two Halves in my next report.

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