USC emphasizes toughness, discipline in spring drills

Is USC tough enough?

Throughout the first week of spring practice, new Coach Lane Kiffin never missed a chance to emphasize that toughness and discipline were the watchwords of the new regime.

On Saturday, after the Trojans’ first practice in pads, Kiffin seemed to take the theme a step further. With the number of available offensive lineman dwindling and other positions such as fullback short-handed because of injuires, Kiffin did not mince words.

“I’m concerned to know, could they have kept going?” Kiffin said. “That’s what we need to learn about our team and our players. … We need to find out who’s going to play through pain and who’s going to be in there in the fourth quarter for us.”

Kiffin praised senior center Kristofer O’Dowd, who sprained his left knee Thursday but completed Saturday’s entire practice, which included a lengthy scrimmage.

“That’s a good example of what we’re trying to install,” Kiffin said. “That it doesn’t matter whether you’ve played before and been all-conference. You better get out here and earn your position.”

Said O’Dowd: “Being injured means you can’t do anything -- you’re out. Being hurt means, ‘OK, you’ve got a knick-knack but you can play through it.’ ”

Sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard, who is playing with a cast on his left wrist, said he welcomes the Trojans’ 2 Âœ-hour workouts.

“There’s a definite emphasis on toughness,” Kennard said. “We’re trying to go out there and bang as a defense and rekindle something we didn’t have last year.”

Middle ground

It took only one week in 2009 for Kennard to make a late-season switch from defensive end to starting strong-side linebacker.

This spring, he is attempting an even bigger jump, challenging Chris Galippo to start at middle linebacker.

“It feels like I’m kind of beating the curve right now,” Kennard said.

Kennard, a sophomore from Arizona, was surprised when Kiffin and his staff informed him of the plan.

“I was kind of shocked, ‘Like, middle linebacker? You know I was a defensive end, right?’ ” Kennard said, chuckling. “Once I realized they were serious, I was, ‘Let’s go.’”

Kennard’s presence is pushing Galippo, who according to Kiffin is “playing his best ball from what we’ve seen on film to now.”

Barkley leading

Quarterback Mitch Mustain completed a touchdown pass to receiver Ronald Johnson during the scrimmage, but Kiffin said Matt Barkley maintains “a slight edge” because of accuracy and command of the offense and progression through his reads.

Barkley and Mustain both had passes intercepted during seven-on-seven drills Saturday. Barkley also had a pass deflected and intercepted during a scrimmage drill on Tuesday.

Barkley, like all Trojans players, is running punitive laps for his mistakes.

“They’re walks of shame to me,” Barkley said, chuckling.

Quick hits

Running back C.J. Gable scored on a long run during the scrimmage. … The Trojans are off Sunday and Monday. They will resume workouts on Tuesday. … Kiffin and his staff will oversee a clinic for football coaches of all levels on Friday and Saturday at the Galen Center. Oregon Coach Chip Kelly and Harvard Coach Tim Murphy are among the featured speakers. Information: (213) 740-9300.