College Football: USC Trojans Not Playing With a Full Deck This Spring

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College Football: USC Trojans Not Playing With a Full Deck This Spring
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They could probably scrounge up enough bodies for a game of pinochle or bridge or even seven-card stud or Texas Hold ‘Em.  But forget about staging even a meager tournament.

It’s just not in the cards.

Nevertheless, Lane Kiffin must deal with the hand that fate has dealt him for the third year in a row as a Division I head football coach.

Two years ago, he took over the reins at the University of Tennessee shortly after the Volunteers fired former head coach Phil Fulmer.  Time was short, and Kiffin had to scramble to put together a coaching staff and get up to speed on recruiting, which was quickly drawing to a close.

In order to attract better recruits, he also had to put on a PR blitz that made him public enemy No. 1 throughout the SEC.  The ramifications of that blitz still haunt him and the University of Tennessee to this day.

Needless to say, he didn’t have the time to truly prepare for spring ball the way he would have liked.

Last year, he left Tennessee for USC in a whirlwind of controversy and anger on the part of most Volunteers fans.  That anger also haunts Kiffin to this day.

Succeeding Pete Carroll—who suddenly parted ways with the Trojans, leaving the cupboard bare as far as linemen, linebackers, defensive backs and coaching staff were concerned—created another short spring for Kiffin.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Chris Galippo, back spasms

Although he brought some of his staff, including his father, Monte Kiffin, and Ed Orgeron with him from Tennessee, he still had several important vacancies to fill while trying to hold together the class that Carroll and his staff had recruited.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, the NCAA hit USC with severe sanctions that made Kiffin and his staff scramble not only to keep the incoming recruits but to limit junior and senior defections.

Once again, Kiffin was faced with a short spring and little time to plan.  Compound that with the fact that Carroll had not done the math, which left USC’s roster having far more subtractions than additions.

But after two good recruiting classes and picking up some decent junior college transfers, Kiffin and his staff could finally plan on having a full-fledged spring practice.  Right?

Wrong!

With late-season injuries, postseason surgeries and the wear and tear of offseason workouts and conditioning, Kiffin found himself holding a poor hand for the third year in a row.

No less than 19 players were unavailable for the start of spring practice yesterday.  Many of them, like Kyle Prater, will miss all of spring.

Prater, a promising Mike Williams-sized receiver who was injured last year and forced to red shirt, was expected to compete for the starting receiver position opposite All-Pac-10 freshman, Robert Woods.

Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Armond Armstead, awaiting test results

But Prater broke his foot during a winter workout session and will have to wait until fall camp to stake his claim for a starting spot.

Just as last spring, the undermanned linebacker corps is once again shorthanded.

Chris Galippo, who underwent two back surgeries, is having spasms once again and has decided to give his back a rest.  Devon Kennard is nursing a hip injury.  Reserve linebacker Shane Horton is also dealing with hip problems.

The defensive line has taken a hit as well.

Christian Tupou is still recovering from leg surgery.  Wes Horton has a sprained ankle.  Armond Armstead was hospitalized with chest pains a month ago and is awaiting test results.

The offensive line, another undermanned spot last season, will be minus Khaled Holmes, who has recurring neck stingers, Abe Markowitz (broken foot) and Kevin Graf (shoulder injury).

"It's extremely frustrating,” Kiffin admitted. “You've got a lot of people out, and we have gigantic depth issues in the offensive and defensive line."

Some of his detractors might say that Kiffin brought this on himself.  They believe he should have turned down Mike Garrett’s offer and remained at Tennessee. 

But how many of us could turn down an offer that doubled our salaries and landed us at a prestigious university in Southern California?

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Mark Tyler, pulled hamstring

The one thing that Kiffin wanted to do in his first two years as a collegiate head coach was to hold early-morning spring practices.  This year, he finally had the chance to do just that.

The players reported to the training room at 5:30 a.m yesterday.  Meetings began at 6 a.m., and the players were out on the field by 7 a.m., just as the sun was coming up.

Kiffin hopes the sun will come up for his depth chart as well.

"The scary thing is we're 19 short and we just started," Kiffin said. "Usually you're short at the end of spring. Hopefully we don't add to that list, and possibly get some guys back."

Once again, Lady Luck had different ideas.  Kiffin’s starting running back, Mark Tyler, pulled a hamstring and now joins the list of the limping wounded.

Does this mean that Kiffin may need to once again limit or altogether eliminate tackling, the one thing last year’s Trojans surely missed?

Well, like the song goes, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.”

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