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USC football FYI: First practice of spring is a real yawner as Coach Lane Kiffin starts early

Players look sluggish after reporting at 5:30 a.m. for two-hour workout that begins around 7. 'We're just getting used to it,' quarterback Matt Barkley says, and they may have to — Kiffin is considering scheduling daybreak practices in the fall, too.

March 23, 2011|By Baxter Holmes, Los Angeles Times

The moon was setting and the sun was rising as USC's football team began its first practice of the spring early Tuesday.

The players reported to the training room at 5:30 a.m. to stretch and be taped, and some attended meetings at 6 before a two-hour practice without pads started about an hour later.

Overall, they looked sluggish.

"We're just getting used to it," junior quarterback Matt Barkley said.

Coach Lane Kiffin has wanted to practice early in the morning for years, but found it difficult because of conflicts with class schedules. "You basically have to do it a year in advance because of registration, blocking these hours," he said.

Kiffin said he wants to try it now to see if it's a good move for the fall, a decision he'll make this week.

Other team-oriented decisions will have to be made later — 19 of his players didn't practice or missed contact drills because of injuries.

"The scary thing is we're 19 short and we just started," Kiffin said. "Usually you're short at the end of spring. Hopefully we don't add to that list, and possibly get some guys back."

That list grew when senior tailback Marc Tyler pulled a hamstring muscle while running a pass route. It's unclear how long he'll be out.

Among the absent: Senior Chris Galippo, who could play weakside and middle linebacker next season, sat out because of back spasms. Senior defensive tackle Armond Armstead is out until he receives test results related to an unspecified medical condition that recently caused him to be hospitalized. Armstead said he expects those results on April 1 and that he is feeling well.

One unit that's especially short is the offensive line, which has just six healthy scholarship players.

Kiffin said he's not sure how the team will be able to scrimmage until some players return.

First look

Freshmen quarterbacks Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are vying for the backup spot behind Barkley. And if anything can be drawn from one practice, only Wittek didn't throw a pass that was intercepted.

Kiffin said he wants a backup who can make good decisions and manage the offense.

"You're not looking for the guy necessarily to have the 400-yard passing game," he said.

Barkley has told his backups to study the playbook.

"Throwing the ball and getting used to the speed of the game will come, but if you set your mind to knowing the offense backward and forward, it will help them the most," Barkley said.

In a rush

D.J. Morgan is competing with Tyler and sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter for carries, but he's still learning to trust the right knee he injured his senior year at Woodland Hills Taft High.

"It's a mental thing," Morgan said, adding that his knee is still not quite 100%. "I'm trying to get used to it, being able to plant on it and make sure it's secure. But, you know, I'm worried a little bit."

Morgan, who redshirted last season, said he should become more comfortable as spring practice progresses. His speed, toughness and shiftiness have been noted by Kiffin.

"I thought he flashed a couple times [Tuesday]," Kiffin said. "The ball bounced outside, you could see the speed."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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