Amir Carlisle, shown at a camp, was a standout player at The King's… (scout.com )
USC has been practicing for only four days, but tailback Amir Carlisle is the early front-runner as the top freshman in training camp.
That, at least, is the opinion of veteran teammates who have watched Carlisle on and off the field.
On Sunday, after another three-hour workout that featured several outstanding plays by Carlisle, senior middle linebacker Chris Galippo and junior quarterback Matt Barkley both compared the 5-foot-10, 180-pound freshman to receiver Robert Woods, who earned freshman All-America honors last season.
"What made Robert Woods so special wasn't his speed and it wasn't his ability — it was just his maturity as a freshman to handle the amount of [information] load that he did," Galippo said. "Amir has that same maturity."
USC does not make freshmen available to the media for the first week of training camp. But Barkley indicated that Carlisle has let his performance speak for itself.
"He's using his brain," Barkley said. "He's using the mental side of the game, I think, to stand out from all the other guys."
Carlisle, who averaged 11 yards per carry during his career at Sunnyvale Kings Academy, is competing at tailback with sophomore Dillon Baxter, redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan and junior Curtis McNeal.
His first major test comes Monday night when the Trojans don full pads for the first time and scrimmage at the Coliseum.
Coach Lane Kiffin said he would have no problem starting Carlisle in the Sept. 3 opener against Minnesota if the freshman proves during scrimmages that he knows his assignments, holds onto the ball and plays well.
"We don't have any issues about playing freshmen if they're the best guy," Kiffin said.
Carlisle, of course, has yet to absorb a college hit at full speed. So the tailback competition is expected to remain close throughout training camp.
"That position is so much based off of real game stuff," Kiffin said. "How are they going to pass-protect when it's live? How are they going to hold onto the ball? How are they going to take it if they have to carry 15 to 20 times [Monday] night?"
Kiffin said Monday's scrimmage would be set up like a real game with live tackling throughout. The Trojans refrained from that practice last fall because of depth issues.
Kiffin is eager to see whether tackling has improved.
"I think we're better on defense," he said, "but we'll find out."
Cornerback Torin Harris did not practice because of a concussion suffered Wednesday. Tight end Christian Thomas (hip) also was held out…. After having five passes intercepted Saturday, quarterbacks avoided turnovers until the final play of practice. Cornerback Isiah Wiley intercepted a pass by freshman Max Wittek in the end zone.