USC quarterback Matt Barkley, right, hands off to running back Marc Tyler… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Marc Tyler was prepared for the game, if not the workload.
The tailback's 24-carry, 113-yard rushing performance in USC's victory over Utah last week was more than he anticipated.
"I didn't think I was going to get the ball 24 times," Tyler said Tuesday.
Tyler, suspended for the opener against Minnesota, said he suffered thigh bruises in each leg during the Trojans' 23-14 victory.
But the fifth-year senior took first-team snaps in drills.
"[Monday] I could hardly walk," he said, "but today it just went away."
Coach Lane Kiffin won't publicly say as much, but Tyler is clearly the front-runner to start when the unbeaten Trojans play unbeaten Syracuse on Saturday at the Coliseum.
"If I don't start, that doesn't really bother me," Tyler said. "I don't really have any voice to say anything right now. I'm just going to shut up and when they put me in just play hard."
Tyler was banished from practice and team activities during training camp while serving a suspension that followed a series of off-the-field incidents. But he worked daily with running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu and walk-on Emon Saee, a quarterback who also was not on the training camp roster.
Tyler weighs 223 pounds, about 13 fewer than he did during spring. He said his cutting ability against Utah suffered because of limited practice time.
But Tyler, who scored a touchdown, said he was mentally tougher than last season, when he rushed for 913 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I wouldn't say it felt easier than last year but I was more comfortable," he said. "Last year I would get that one touchdown and I'd be satisfied the rest of the game, Like 'Oh yeah. I got a touchdown. Just happy to be playing.'
"This year even when I did get tired and two bruises, I still stuck it out."
Not without seeking a break, though.
"Some plays," Tyler said, "I'd come out and try to get a drink and Coach [Polamalu] would tell me, 'Get back in.'"
Meantime, Dillon Baxter continues to wonder when he will get a more extended opportunity.
The sophomore, in for only two plays against Minnesota, played sparingly against Utah.
"Anyone used to touching the ball a lot would be frustrated," Baxter said. "But I'm just going to keep working hard like I did in practice last week."
Asked if Baxter would play more against Syracuse, Kiffin said, "I hope so. We'll see how the game goes. Dillon had a good week of practice last week and, hopefully, we'll expand his role this week."
Freshman Marcus Martin worked with the first-string offense at left guard, where Martin Coleman started last week. Redshirt freshman Anthony Brown worked with the first-string defense at cornerback, where Torin Harris has started the first two games. … Coleman (shoulder) and linebacker Marquis Simmons (neck) did not practice.