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D.J. Morgan looks back on track for USC

The sophomore tailback shows off his sprinter's speed with a 70-yard plus run during the Trojans' second spring workout. He says he's finally past thinking about the knee injury he suffered in high school.

March 08, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • USC running back D.J. Morgan appears to be running at full speed again for the first time since high school.
USC running back D.J. Morgan appears to be running at full speed again for… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

USC won't practice in pads until Saturday, so getting an accurate read on how players operate under full-contact conditions will have to wait.

Still, the Trojans' second spring workout came to a momentary standstill Thursday after sophomore tailback D.J. Morgan took a handoff and blazed untouched more than 70 yards to the end zone.

The burst and acceleration that were trademarks before a major knee injury in high school seemed to have suddenly reappeared.

Well, not so suddenly.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Morgan has been training with USC's track team and ran a 400-meter relay event with football teammates Nickell Robey, Marqise Lee and Tony Burnett two weeks ago at the Claremont Relays. The focus on running mechanics and core strength, along with finally overcoming the mental aspect of recovery from knee surgery, has restored Morgan's speed and confidence.

"I'm so many years [away from] my surgery," said Morgan, the 2009 California state 110-meter high hurdles champion. "I don't even have to think about it anymore."

That's a positive development for the Trojans.

Morgan, returning starter Curtis McNeal and redshirt freshman Javorious Allen are the only scholarship tailbacks on the roster, a lack of depth that Coach Lane Kiffin has described as "scary."

"We just have to make sure we stay healthy," Morgan said, "because if one guy goes down that's a big burden on the other two backs."

Morgan is looking forward to playing without the burden of inexperience.

Last season as a redshirt freshman, he started the first two games but fell out of the rotation because of fumbling issues.

Morgan said he was affected by the pressure of "trying to do everything right," while executing plays in a packed stadium with his mind still not completely clear of doubts about his knee.

"My mind was just going so fast," he said, "I didn't have time to slow things down."

Now, his legs appear to be moving at full speed.

"He looked different to me," said running backs Coach Kennedy Polamalu, assessing the breakaway run. "Not indecisive."

The time on the track has helped.

"I'm in my track form and my track shape," he said. "I'm able to translate it onto the field."

Quick hits

Sophomore receiver Marqise Lee made the play of the day when he leaped and extended his body to catch a pass from quarterback Matt Barkley that appeared destined to sail incomplete. "He's still putting in work like he has to earn something," Barkley said. ... Receiver George Farmer was sidelined because of a hamstring strain, defensive tackle Greg Townsend because of a back issue, Kiffin said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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