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Tre Madden's move to tailback causes USC number problem

Madden's switch from linebacker gives the Trojans two offensive players who wear No. 13. Quarterback Max Wittek also wears the jersey number.

March 24, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • USC's Tre Madden, left, shown taking down Oregon running back LaMichael James with teammate Tony Burnett, will switch from linebacker to tailback this fall.
USC's Tre Madden, left, shown taking down Oregon running back LaMichael… (Jim Z. Rider / U.S. Presswire )

USC, its ranks reduced by injuries and multisport athletes with competitive commitments elsewhere, did not scrimmage as planned Saturday.

But several developments unfolded during the Trojans' three-hour practice at the Coliseum that could make things interesting, especially on the jersey-number front.

First, Coach Lane Kiffin made it official: Tre Madden, moved last week from linebacker, is now a tailback.

"That means this week went pretty well," Madden said, "and they believe in my ability and technique."

The 6-foot, 226-pound Madden fumbled once Saturday but had several powerful runs during full-contact team drills.

"He did some pretty special things," Kiffin said, citing the sophomore's balance, power and speed.

Madden's move means the Trojans now have two offensive players — Madden and quarterback Max Wittek — wearing No. 13.

Wittek is a redshirt freshman, but he was a January enrollee in 2011, so he actually has been in the program longer than Madden, who enrolled last summer.

"I'll try to get him out of it," Madden said. "Try to bribe him a little bit and see where it goes."

That might be difficult.

Wittek said the number has special meaning to him as a way of honoring a family friend.

Madden, whose given name is Curtis Madden III, said he has always had the numeral 3 in his jersey number. Teammates have been calling Madden "Baby Stafon," in reference to former Trojans tailback Stafon Johnson, who wore No. 13.

Wittek, though, intends to hold onto the number, which was once worn by a talented but notorious USC quarterback, Todd Marinovich.

"Hopefully," he said, "they don't call me Baby Marinovich."

The 6-4 Wittek joked that he would not be averse to settling the matter on the basketball court.

"Maybe," he said, "we can take it down to a one on one."

Flournoy flourishes

Receiver Marqise Lee did not practice because he competed in the Trojan Invitational track meet, winning the long jump with a leap of 23 feet 111/2 inches.

Lee's absence and injuries that have sidelined Robert Woods and George Farmer left the offense with only two scholarship receivers — fourth-year junior De'Von Flournoy and redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell.

Both impressed despite fatigue, Flournoy making the play of the day when he leaped in traffic and extended his arms to catch a pass from Wittek over the middle.

It was a highlight moment for a player who was stripped of jersey No. 1 by Kiffin in 2010 as part of a numbers game that also took No. 43 out of circulation. No. 1 had been worn by All-American receiver Mike Williams, No. 43 by All-American safety Troy Polamalu. Kiffin has said that players would have to earn the right to wear them.

Kiffin said Flournoy, who wears No. 10, could work his way into the lineup, as former Trojan Brandon Carswell did the last two seasons.

"If you have the right attitude and you stay long enough," Kiffin said, "usually you play regardless of how buried you are on the depth chart…. You pass the newcomers up because you know the system, you know the stuff better.

"So, hopefully, it will be another example of that."

Quick hits

Wittek's first pass during team drills was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted, but he performed well overall. Quarterback Cody Kessler also played well…. Fullback Soma Vainuku suffered a back injury during individual drills, and tight ends Randall Telfer (hamstring) and Xavier Grimble (toe) remain sidelined, forcing Kiffin to scrap scrimmage plans. … Safety Tony Burnett was held out of practice after participating in the triple jump at the track meet. Burnett finished second with a mark of 49 feet 3/4 inches. Cornerback Nickell Robey, scheduled to compete in the track meet, practiced with the football team instead. Kiffin said NCAA rules regarding the weekly number of hours that can be allotted for athletics-related activities forbid athletes from practicing if they have competed in another sport the same day.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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