When the biggest question as USC opens training camp at UC Irvine today is how receiver R. Jay Soward spent his summer, face it, things are looking pretty good for the Trojans.
Quarterback controversy? There isn't even a quarterback question anymore with sophomore Carson Palmer taking the snaps.
It's true the Trojans have to rebuild a defense that lost Chris Claiborne, Rashard Cook and Daylon McCutcheon as they prepare for their Sept. 4 opener at Hawaii, but the coaching turmoil and quarterback problems of recent years are behind and USC figures to be a top-25 team.
That leaves only l'affaire R. Jay.
What that amounts to is that the spectacularly gifted but inconsistent and free-spirited Soward showed up for only a few of the team's summer workouts--officially mandated as voluntary by NCAA rules. That disappointed Coach Paul Hackett and miffed some of Soward's teammates, who more or less shrug and say, "That's R. Jay."
"As far as my teammates, I regret that I didn't come around," an unusually subdued Soward said Friday, a day after managing to complete only about half of a conditioning drill after reporting to USC, though he insisted he is in game condition. "I feel now I should have been around. I came out yesterday and did not have a good performance at all. I was very embarrassed."
Soward met with Hackett on Wednesday but said he has not told his teammates that he regretted not joining their well-attended workouts. Nearly 40 of 65 players were at every session.
"I think everybody knew [how I felt] when I went out and did only eight 'gassers' and had to stop," Soward said. "They gave me a look like, 'Is he going to be ready?'
"But I could play a whole game right now. That's different than 16 'gassers.' In a game, you're on the field three plays, or even 16 plays, but you are always going to come off and get a chance to recover."
And what exactly did Soward do with himself this summer?
"I made a lot of music and I made a lot of connections," he said. "I play the keyboards, drums and saxophone."
The little-known fact about summer workouts is that although they obviously help prepare players and build camaraderie, some notable players have attended sparingly.
Claiborne, a first-round NFL draft pick after last season, was not a summer regular, despite his reputation for hard work.
"I didn't really see Chris that much in the summer," said offensive lineman Travis Claridge, who is moving to right tackle from right guard for his senior season.
"Obviously, he played well. So obviously he did something."
"He's part of our team," Claridge said.
"If somebody on our team would have gone out and done something crazy, he's still part of our team. If someone in your family screws up, you don't disown them. The way I deal with my brother is the way I deal with R. Jay.
"R. Jay is going to be fine. He's probably the fastest kid in the country. Honestly, I couldn't question his heart."
Tailback Chad Morton clasped Soward by the hand Friday to tell him not to make too much of Morton's lighthearted reference to him as "our Dennis Rodman," and Soward assured him he didn't.
As for Hackett, he may question Soward's discipline and would like him to run better routes and catch the ball more consistently, but he is ready to reconcile.
"I'm not happy about [the workout attendance]," Hackett said. "[But] he's in shape, and I like his mental makeup.
"Remember this about R. Jay: He loves football. He's the most dynamic, exciting guy about football that we have around. And now's his time to blossom. . . .
"Did he do things exactly the way the coach wanted? No, but now's the time to move on."