The experiment that put Sultan Abdul-Malik at strongside linebacker last season is but a bad memory.
This summer, the USC senior has spent training camp reacquainting himself with the familiar environs of defensive end, where he can use his quickness to rush the passer.
"I feel like I'm back home," he said.
Abdul-Malik started at end during his first two seasons and had a team-high eight sacks in 1998. But last season his sacks and tackles decreased significantly after the coaches pulled him off the line to learn a new position.
His only fun came in the final game, when Louisiana Tech's multi-receiver sets allowed him to return to the line and record 1 1/2 sacks.
"When the season was over, we said it was a mistake," Coach Paul Hackett said. "Now there is focus. He has a smile on his face and he should because he has a chance to be a force."
Kori Dickerson has moved into the vacant linebacker slot. Like Abdul-Malik, the redshirt junior was previously a lineman.
"He has impressed me as much as anyone on the defense," Hackett said. "Every day he shows new flashes."
The coaches had been waiting all summer to see these kinds of plays: Steve Stevenson catching the ball along the sideline and scooping up a low pass in the end zone.
The sophomore receiver has finally delivered the last two days, returning to practice after sitting out the first week of camp because of a pulled hamstring.
"I'm not used to being on the sideline so that part was kind of frustrating for me," he said. "Now I'm feeling good and I'm just trying to get back in the groove."
Stevenson, who started one game last season, figures to compete with Matt Nickels and Keary Colbert for the third spot behind sophomores Kareem Kelly and Marcell Allmond.
But while the Trojans welcomed Stevenson's return, they prepared to go on without receiver Donald Hale. The freshman walk-on had practiced well this summer and was a candidate to receive a scholarship but left the team to concentrate on his studies.
USC's search for a kicker continues today as the Trojans hold a closed scrimmage.
The leading candidate, David Newbury, was inconsistent Tuesday, missing two field-goal attempts before rebounding with three successful kicks. David Bell and John Wall, also competing for the job, weren't any better.
"I'm a little disappointed," Hackett said. "We've got to answer some of these kicking questions."
He said he wants to settle on a starter in the next few days, not only at kicker but also at snapper and holder, where redshirt freshman Joe Boskovich and senior Ifeanyi Ohalete are the leaders.
"I think it's better to make the decision and let the kicker, snapper and holder work together," the coach said.
The scrimmage will give USC an opportunity to continue work on its running game and rush defense in preparation for the Kickoff Classic against Penn State on Aug 27. Starters are expected to go 50 plays and reserves about the same number, Hackett said.
The coaches will also be looking to see which freshmen can compete for playing time and which might be redshirted.