A depth problem at tailback, the overriding concern for a USC football team expected to contend for a national title, disappeared when Penn State transfer Silas Redd joined the Trojans on the eve of training camp.
Now, as USC prepares for its Sept. 1 opener against Hawaii, the coaching staff faces another related issue, though a welcome one: how to divide carries.
"I don't know what my quota is going to be," said fifth-year senior Curtis McNeal, the returning starter. "I'm just going to be ready when my number is called."
Redd's arrival gives Coach Lane Kiffin and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu options, something USC hasn't enjoyed since before Kiffin kicked sophomore Dillon Baxter off the team last year at midseason and freshman Amir Carlisle unexpectedly transferred to Notre Dame in January.
To address the shortfall and add a big back to the mix, Tre Madden moved from linebacker to tailback during spring practice. But the sophomore suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss this season, leaving the Trojans with only three scholarships tailbacks.
Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, anticipating possible NCAA penalties against Penn State because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, studied the Nittany Lions' roster and identified Redd as a possible target. Last year as a sophomore, he rushed for 1,241 yards.
Within a week of sanctions being handed down last month, making every Penn State player eligible to be recruited, Redd decided to transfer to USC.
The Trojans are now hoping they have a dynamic backfield duo, which prompts fond memories of a certain Thunder and Lightning tandem from a season not too long ago. In 2005, Kiffin was a first-year co-offensive coordinator for a record-setting Trojans offense that worked its tailback rotation to near perfection.
Big back LenDale White carried the ball 197 times for 1,302 yards and 24 touchdowns. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush carried 200 times for 1,740 yards and rushed for 16 touchdowns.
"I'm not saying that situation was easier, but it was different," Kiffin said. "They had different roles.
"Curtis and Silas are very similar in their running styles."
Last season, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound McNeal was a reserve before emerging as the Trojans' most dependable back and starting the final four games. He rushed for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns in 145 carries.
McNeal intends to keep the starting role but welcomed the addition of Redd.
"I've been here for five years, so competing with another guy is nothing," he said. "When you're at 'SC, you're going to compete regardless."
Redd, 5-10 and 200 pounds, is accustomed to a workhorse role.
Last season at Penn State, he had 244 carries, a number not reached by a USC tailback since Chad Morton ran 262 times in 1999. Sultan McCullough in 2000, White in 2004 and Bush in 2005 are the only Trojans tailbacks to have carried the ball at least 200 times in a season since.
When Kiffin and USC assistants traveled to Norwalk, Conn., to meet with Redd and his family before his transfer, their pitch extolled the benefits of sharing carries in a two-back system.
"They made that clear," Redd said. "They said I wasn't going to take that much of a beating."
Redd's arrival seemingly put a major hurdle in front of D.J. Morgan, a third-year sophomore who started the first two games last season but fell out of the rotation after fumbling issues.
Morgan, however, has impressed at times during the first weeks of training camp and said he does not feel like the odd man out.
"I have to know my assignments and be on top of my plays so I can be a part of this offense this year," he said.
Buck Allen, a 6-1, 210-pound redshirt freshman who was slowed by injuries during spring practice, also has run with authority. Fullback Soma Vainuku can also operate as a tailback.
"They're pushing each other," Polamalu said, "and helping each other."
Kiffin is pleased to suddenly have a full set of options.
Play-calling, he said, sometimes revolves around "who has a hot hand." And he hasn't completely ruled out a single-back approach.
During Kiffin's lone season at Tennessee in 2009, running back Monterio Hardesty carried the ball 282 times.
"You do whatever is best to win," Kiffin said. "It's all about winning."