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Tailbacks are happy to share the burden

September 20, 2008|Gary Klein and David Wharton | Times Staff Writers

Not that anyone is counting or anything, but . . .

"18, 13, 14, 13," USC running backs coach Todd McNair said.

"18, 13, 14, 13," junior tailback Allen Bradford repeated about an hour after McNair.

Neither McNair nor any of his four top tailbacks require a crib sheet to know how many times each carried the ball in top-ranked USC's two games.

After nearly equal distribution in a season-opening victory at Virginia, sophomore Joe McKnight got 12 carries in the Trojans' rout of Ohio State. No other tailback got more than five.

"We talked about how it's not always going to go evenly and said, 'Let's just take a pledge to not complain and just take it as it comes,' " McNair said. "Cheer each other on and it will work out how it works out."

McKnight has 18 carries for 165 yards, sophomore C.J. Gable 13 carries for 91 yards, Bradford 14 carries for 57 yards and junior Stafon Johnson 13 carries for 51 yards.

"Part of the process is managing the egos because they all want to contribute in the thick of things," McNair said. "They don't want to feel like they came in when we're up by 30. They want to feel they helped us get the 30.

"So far, so good."

Bradford agreed.

"It's going OK," he said. "Hopefully, we'll all get a chance to be in there when it counts."

Worth the wait

With two open dates in September, the Trojans have leapfrogged through the early season, which can be a little frustrating for players and fans.

But weeks off give the team a chance to rest veterans and take a longer look at freshmen and sophomores fighting for playing time.

"I'll take any opportunity I can get," freshman cornerback T.J. Bryant said. "Any time the coaches tell me to go out there, I go. There's nothing bad about bye week practices."

Linebackers coach Ken Norton said weeks off provide young players a chance to earn respect.

"Everything is competition," Norton said. "So any time a younger guy steps up and makes a lot of plays, all of a sudden the older guy grabs his helmet and says, 'I've got to get out there.' "

Open dates also allow some to remain out of the action.

"When you're injured, it's a big plus. You get time to heal," said fullback Stanley Havili, who is nursing a sore hamstring. "I still feel pressure to get healthy, but with this week you don't have to come back in pain and play through it. When I'm healthy, I don't like bye weeks. You're just beating up on each other."

Quick kick

The Trojans were off Friday and will be off today before resuming practice Sunday.


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