Monte Kiffin likes what he sees in USC safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling.
And not just on the field.
Kiffin, the Trojans' assistant head coach for defense, routinely finds the two sophomores hunkered down in the coaches' office watching tape.
"They're football junkies," Kiffin said.
McDonald and Starling, however, are not very experienced.
Playing on special teams and as backups last season, McDonald made seven tackles, Starling one.
Nevertheless, they are the starters from a position group that is thin in numbers and experience.
Byron Moore, who would have been a redshirt freshman, left USC for Harbor College. Junior Drew McAllister had off-season surgery on his left hip and has been sidelined for nearly all of training camp because of right hip pain.
Junior Marshall Jones, who redshirted last season because of a neck injury, has played well of late in practice, but the other scholarship safeties — Dion Bailey, Demetrius Wright and Patrick Hall — are freshmen.
Starling said he and McDonald were prepared to carry the load.
"We push each other to make plays," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Starling. "It's a competition between us. We're trying to be the best safeties in the country."
McDonald, 6-3, 205 pounds, is the son of former USC All-American safety Tim McDonald.
"Last year we were young freshmen and not really knowing what we're doing back there," he said. "But we have a completely different role this year."
About 30 minutes into their workout, coaches instructed players on the main practice field to leave the facility.
After gathering outside the gate, they re-entered and resumed practice with more intensity.
Coach Lane Kiffin said he ordered the restart because players were "just going through the motions."
"[It's] that middle of the camp where as a coach, that's your fear: That if you let that set in, that becomes a mentality," Kiffin said. "So we got it corrected."
On the mend
While freshman receivers Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles continue to go full speed and impress, fellow freshman Kyle Prater is struggling to play at full strength.
Prater enrolled at USC in January, but he was slowed by hamstring and hand injuries during spring practice.
He suffered a groin strain early in training camp and has not been able to fully utilize his 6-5, 210-pound frame.
"I feel I haven't showed what I can do," he said.
Defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo sat out after suffering a shoulder sprain…. Tight end Xavier Grimble (ankle) and offensive linemen Zack Heberer (concussion) and Michael Reardon (hip) also sustained injuries.