USC tailback Marc Tyler spent the 2007 season at No. 10 on a 10-man depth chart.
The redshirt freshman opened this season sixth in a six-deep position group.
By the 2009 opener, he could conceivably be No. 2.
Junior Stafon Johnson and third-year sophomore C.J. Gable have applied for evaluations from the NFL regarding their draft status. If they turn pro, Tyler, Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford would be the only returning tailbacks.
"I think they both can leave right now and be good in the league," Tyler said of Johnson and Gable after Sunday's practice. "I joke with both of them, telling them they should be going to the draft."
Tyler's role for the Rose Bowl game against Penn State looked as though it might become larger on Saturday after Johnson appeared to injure his right knee when he was hit after catching a pass. Johnson stayed on the ground for several moments, then got to his feet and spent the rest of the workout on the trainer's table.
Afterward, Johnson walked to the locker room and said his knee "went out and then came back in." He added that he would return today when the Trojans play a mock game in their final practice before Christmas.
"I'm a warrior," he said. "I'm staying in there."
But will he stay at USC?
Tyler said he thought both Johnson and Gable would return to the Trojans.
Regardless, the former Westlake Village Oaks Christian High star could have a larger role in 2009 with Broderick Green having transferred to Arkansas and Bradford trying to come back from hip surgery.
Tyler, the son of former NFL running back Wendell Tyler, has rushed for 198 yards and a touchdown in 36 carries. He has impressed during bowl preparation workouts and says he has been healthy for an extended time for the first time since arriving at USC.
Tyler redshirted last season while recovering from a broken leg suffered during his senior season at Oaks Christian. He said he has been buoyed by phone calls from some of his father's teammates, including former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig and quarterback Joe Montana.
"They're like, 'Anything can happen in football. Guys can leave and guys can get hurt. Stay at 'SC and wait it out and things are going to happen for you.' "
The migration to join new Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian in Seattle continues.
Dennis Slutak, USC's director of football operations for the last four years, said he has accepted an offer to join Sarkisian's staff as assistant athletic director for football operations.
Slutak, 36, is the fifth current or former USC staff member moving to Washington.
Assistant strength coach Ivan Lewis was hired as strength and conditioning coach for the Huskies and fellow assistant Charr Gahagan will be a member of his staff. Jared Blank, director of player personnel, will have similar responsibilities at Washington. Former graduate assistant Demetrice Martin was hired to coach defensive backs.
USC practices today at 11 a.m. and then will be off until Friday. . . . Coach Pete Carroll said he would not name a quarterbacks coach until after the Rose Bowl. Carl Smith is expected to get the job. . . . Cornerback Kevin Thomas did not practice because of a sore hamstring, Carroll said.