OFF THE DEEP END
And then there were. . . nine.
Emmanuel Moody’s decision to transfer has diminished USC’s depth at tailback, but not the perception that it remains bloated.
According to Coach Pete Carroll, however, tales of a nine- or 10-deep tailback supply are greatly exaggerated.
“That’s not what we’re practicing with -- it doesn’t feel like that out here,” he said Thursday. “We’re having to take care of some guys and we’re having to work our way through it.
“The depth chart is not nearly as it appears.”
Moody, the Trojans’ second-leading rusher in 2006, could not be reached for comment, but he said last week that several tailbacks would be disappointed on game days. After being slowed by injuries late last season, during spring practice and recently in training camp, Moody made what appears to be a preemptive move.
“Shoot, I can’t tell who’s going to play right now,” Carroll said, laughing. “I don’t know why he could.”
Even before Moody’s departure, the competition for carries and playing time was essentially a six- or seven-player race.
Sixth-year senior Hershel Dennis has not practiced because of soreness in his left knee, which has been surgically repaired three times. Freshman Marc Tyler, who suffered a broken leg last season at Westlake Village Oaks Christian High, has been held out to allow for more healing and could be on track to redshirt. Fifth-year senior Desmond Reed is mainly regarded as a punt-return specialist.
That leaves fifth-year senior Chauncey Washington, sophomores C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson and Allen Bradford and freshmen Joe McKnight and Broderick Green vying for playing time.
McKnight did not participate in Thursday night’s scrimmage at the Coliseum because of a knee bruise and Gable has been nursing an abdominal strain since last season.
But opposing coaches are not crying for Carroll or the Trojans, who open against Idaho on Sept. 1 at the Coliseum and are regarded as front-runners to reach the Bowl Championship Series title game for the third time in four years.
Washington led the Trojans with 744 rushing yards last season despite hamstring problems and other leg injuries.
The fifth-year senior, however, had only five carries against UCLA and two against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. He contemplated making himself available for the NFL draft but decided to return and remake his physique.
Washington reported to training camp at 216 pounds -- 24 less than he carried at the end of last season -- and has impressed in limited opportunities, as the coaching staff attempts to keep him healthy.
Gable started the opener and the final four games last season and rushed for 434 yards. As with Washington, coaches have brought him along slowly while evaluating less-proven tailbacks.
“Sometimes it’s kind of hard but really it’s just having patience,” Gable said. “I still look over my plays so when I get in I’m not messing up and I know what I’m doing. I’m just kicking back and waiting to see what happens.”
Johnson has enjoyed perhaps the best camp among the backs, shaking not only defenders but also, apparently, the attitude that sent him spiraling last year to the bottom of the depth chart during training camp.
Bradford, too, is making a run for more than the 13 carries he got last season with a better understanding of the offense.
McKnight, regarded by many as the nation’s top recruit, is a gifted runner and receiver in the Reggie Bush mold. He could be valuable for the Trojans with the ball in his hands or as a decoy.
But the 6-foot, 180-pound Louisiana native cautions that he is still learning the offense. “Once I totally master it, it will be different,” he said. “I’ll be able to do things I can do and help the team.”
The 6-1, 230-pound Green, who is from Arkansas, missed the first few days of practice before the NCAA allowed him a 14-day window to work out while the NCAA Clearinghouse reviews his academic records.
He got his first extensive carries during Wednesday’s practice and bulled his way into the end zone. “We got to see him get rumbling,” Carroll said. “He’s a load.”
Running backs coach Todd McNair is not sure how the Trojans will utilize the tailbacks once the season begins.
During the 2005 season, McNair helped to engineer a nearly identical number of carries for Bush and LenDale White. That might have been a once-in-a-generation scenario.
“That situation we had at the time was two superstar, marquee players and I was able to do that with a good feel,” he said. “I have no idea what the rotation will be this season until we really get going.”
Or, it could be simpler than that.
“It might be,” he said, “who is hot that day.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
USC started practice with 10 high school All-American running backs on its roster. Now, with the impending transfer of Emmanuel Moody, the depth chart just got lighter. . . but not by much.
*--* Chauncey Washington Sr. 6-1 220 Desmond Reed Sr. 5-9 185 Hershel Dennis Sr. 5-11 200 C.J. Gable So. 6-1 195 Stafon Johnson So. 6-0 210 Allen Bradford So. 6-0 225 Joe McKnight Fr. 6-0 180 Broderick Green Fr. 6-1 230 Marc Tyler Fr. 6-0 215 *--*
Los Angeles Times