Trojans will cut down on contact


USC adjusted its practices this week to cut back on possible injury-inducing contact.

On Thursday, Coach Lane Kiffin all but eliminated it, saying the Trojans would be in full pads and engage in tackling only twice more before the Sept. 2 opener at Hawaii.

Kiffin made the decision after defensive end Nick Perry suffered a high ankle sprain Wednesday during a competitive team drill.

The Trojans will tackle only in Saturday’s scrimmage and in another the week after.

“We won’t do it in practice ever again until about four years from now,” Kiffin said, alluding to NCAA sanctions that include a reduction in scholarships over the next three years.

Kiffin acknowledged concern about how the strategy will affect the Trojans. USC’s front seven is an experienced group, but the secondary, with the exception of cornerback Shareece Wright, will be largely inexperienced.

“Obviously, there’s a worry,” he said. “Are we going to tackle really well and be extremely physical when we kick off versus Hawaii? I just had to weigh it. Let’s stay healthy and hope that we do.”

Perry said he would return next week. However the lingering nature of high ankle sprains, coupled with Malik Jackson’s transfer to Tennessee, spurred coaches to move senior Derek Simmons from tackle to end to provide depth. Freshman tight end Christian Thomas also was moved to defense.

Haden supports Kiffin

Athletic Director Pat Haden backed Kiffin’s decision to suspend freshman running back Dillon Baxter for the opener at Hawaii.

Kiffin suspended Baxter on Wednesday for violating team rules.

“Dillon’s a high-profile athlete like other ones we’ve had around here and he wasn’t doing things he was supposed to be doing,” Haden said. “And so when I say Lane gets it, I think he does.

“We just can’t allow this kind of behavior, particularly for a freshman when they’re just getting started, so I think he’s done absolutely the right thing.”

NCAA investigators are expected to visit USC at some point to question Kiffin and four Trojans assistants who coached under him last season at Tennessee. The NCAA is probing possible recruiting violations that occurred during Kiffin’s 14-month tenure in Knoxville.

“It’s not good for the image, there’s no doubt about it, but we don’t know what’s going to come out of that,” Haden said. “I’m not privy to what questions are being asked. I can’t be in that room so it’s not really my investigation at all, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“But these things seem to dog Lane, which is unfortunate because I do know that he’s gotten my message and I know he’s trying to do things right.”

Quick hits

Mitch Mustain completed a long touchdown pass to freshman receiver Robert Woods to end the Trojans’ evening practice. … Kiffin said 5-foot-8 freshman cornerback Nickell Robey has a 40-inch vertical leap and is pushing to start. … Offensive lineman Butch Lewis and safety Drew McAllister said MRI exams revealed groin strains. Lewis said he would return Monday. McAllister, who has experienced right hip soreness, said he was day-to-day. Both players will receive injections, Kiffin said.