Tailback Marc Tyler picks up yardage against Stanford last fall. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Jesse Scroggins is the man in the middle.
The redshirt freshman quarterback has less experience than two-year starter Matt Barkley and more, on the practice field, anyway, than freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.
Scroggins, Wittek and Kessler are competing to become Barkley's backup — and perhaps his successor in 2012 or 2013.
On Saturday, at the end of the first week of spring practice, Scroggins said that off-season workouts with teammates made him quicker and that his already strong arm felt more powerful.
His off-the-field regimen included yoga.
"To make me calm down," he said.
NCAA sanctions that prevented the Trojans from playing in a bowl game last season denied Scroggins the opportunity to get more reps during what would have been 15 bowl practices.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin said the former Lakewood High star remains "a work in progress" as he continues to grasp the offense and communicate with teammates on the field.
The key, Scroggins said, is understanding and executing the playbook.
"Just [being] fluent," he said, "so it's natural to me."
Tackling an issue
The Trojans, who refrained from tackling in practice nearly all of last season because of depth issues, donned pads for the first time this spring and went through several tackling drills.
"We all know we need to tackle better," said Monte Kiffin, the Trojans' assistant head coach for defense.
Depth, however, remains an issue. The Trojans are thin because of injuries, especially along both lines and at linebacker.
"We'd love to be able, like it was years ago, to come out here in spring and be able to take people to another level because you're pretty solid in other positions," Lane Kiffin said. "But when you have so many holes to work on, we're kind of spinning our wheels at times."
Lane Kiffin, on tailback Marc Tyler's claim that his hamstring injury may have resulted from the Trojans' practicing early in the morning and his not being properly stretched before the workout: "Since he pulled his hamstring two hours into practice, it wasn't the stretching two hours before that [did it]." Kiffin noted that trainers set up tables on the pathway from the locker room to the practice field and tend to players who request extra stretching. … Khaled Holmes, moving from guard to center, performed several drills during the first week but will remain limited because of a nerve issue in his neck and shoulders…. Walk-on cornerback James Harbin intercepted a Scroggins pass at the end of practice. Lane and Monte Kiffin praised Harbin, saying the senior had worked a graveyard shift the night before and had gotten off work only a few hours before practice started. … Receiver Cody Gifford, son of former USC All-American Frank Gifford and television personality Kathie Lee Gifford, is among the walk-ons on the roster this spring.