Blocking and tackling. That’s what football's all about, right?
Sure, there is passing and running, punting and kicking, but without blocking and tackling, you might as well be doing a seven-on-seven drill or choosing up sides for a round of touch football.
But that is pretty much how Lane Kiffin has had to tackle fall camp at USC due to the NCAA sanctions.
Right now, USC is down to 70 scholarship players thanks to the NCAA deciding to call Open Season on all of the Trojans juniors and seniors. The NCAA has allowed them to transfer to any school they wish without seeking a release from USC.
So far several backups, including D.J. Shoemate and Malik Jackson, have taken up the NCAA on their offer. That has left the Trojans with a depleted depth chart.
But what really has Kiffin extremely concerned is that yesterday 14 of those 70 scholarship players could not practice due to injuries.
The latest one to hit the trainer’s table was last year’s freshman sack sensation, Nick Perry, with a high ankle sprain.
That was the final straw for Kiffin, who has watched his troops go down under friendly fire. The Trojans’ head coach has decided to call off live tackling for the remainder of fall camp and the next four seasons for that matter, which is how long the NCAA probation period will last.
The first three years of that probation will entail a loss of 30 scholarships. That is all the more reason why Kiffin has decided to forgo live drills except for the team scrimmages tomorrow and next Saturday.
I suppose it really doesn’t matter how great the best players can tackle when a coach must start his third string backups due to injuries.
Of course, the best players are not always great tacklers.
Kiffin’s mentor and predecessor, Pete Carroll, was known for his highly-competitive practices, not only in fall camp but throughout the season.
Yet, with all that competition and hard-driving live practices, the Trojans could have used much better tackling in the Rose Bowl against Vince Young and Texas.
And where was that smash-mouth tackling against Jacquizz Rodgers two years ago? Or how about last year against Jeremiah Masoli and Lamichael James? Or against Stanford’s Toby Gerhart?
Kiffin readily admits that suspending live drills is not his normal way of doing things. Like Carroll, he would like to keep Trojan practices as competitive as possible.
But numbers don’t lie, and 14 out of 70 is twenty percent. For those of you who are not calculus majors, that amounts to one-fifth of USC’s scholarship players who are banged up. And that does not include All-American nose tackle, Christain Tupou, who suffered a broken leg in spring practice and will redshirt this year.
How the lack of live drills will affect the Trojans in games, no one can say. It may prove to be very costly. The Trojans could end up with a record worse than last year’s 9-4 or even worse than Kiffin’s record at Tennessee, 7-6.
On the other hand, the more cerebral and less physical practices could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This may lead to a better disciplined and controlled style of football, where each player knows his assignment and knows where his teammates are expected to be.
We may even see a reduction in those costly personal foul and false start penalties.
Even NFL teams reduce the amount of live drills once the season gets under way in order to cut down on injuries and, even more importantly, to make certain everyone is on board with the game plan.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Lane Kiffin is doing the right thing? Do you think there are other viable options? Finally, how do you think this will affect the Trojans this season and over the next few years?