USC’s Nickell Robey shows his versatility

Freshman Nickell Robey appears to be playing his way into a major role for USC.

Actually, it might be several.

The 5-foot-7 Robey is on track to play the nickel position in the season opener at Hawaii and could also start at cornerback. He also is in the mix as a kick returner and on the punt-block unit.

“Everyone’s fighting for him,” Coach Lane Kiffin said Monday, referring to Trojans assistants.

In practices and scrimmages, Robey has shown a knack for making plays all over the field. Though small, the Frostproof, Fla., native said he was capable of handling bigger receivers.

“I don’t even think about size,” he said. “I feel I can play with anybody. I have a lot of heart and toughness.”

Robey attended a prospects camp at Tennessee last summer, but committed to the Trojans after Kiffin was named Pete Carroll’s successor.

Though Robey’s mother died of a heart attack shortly after he signed with USC in February, he said he never wavered about heading west to join the Trojans.

“It was a little tough when I first left because my mom had passed,” he said. “That adjustment was real strong internally, but when I came here everybody showed me love and took me in and said they would take care of me.”

Robey credited senior cornerback Shareece Wright for helping him get off to a fast start.

“He lets you know when you mess up and when you’re right,” said Robey, who roomed with Wright in the first two weeks of camp.

Kiffin has not been surprised by Robey’s ability to step in and contend for a starting position.

“We had some great receivers at that camp he was at in Tennessee, some guys that have gone to the SEC now, and he was covering everybody,” Kiffin said.

Open-door policy

USC has closed its practices to the public, but NFL scouts remain welcome.

That is in contrast to Alabama, which has reportedly locked out scouts from preseason practices.

Several scouts attended USC’s morning workout.

Mark Jackson, a senior associate athletic director, said that as part of its compliance effort, USC requires scouts to check in and also limits their access to certain portions of the practice fields and the amount of time they can be there.

“It allows them to do their job efficiently and exposes our players to the NFL, Jackson said.

Loosening up?

It wasn’t anything remotely approaching Carroll, who threw dozens of passes during drills on a daily basis, but Kiffin got under center for two plays when quarterback Matt Barkley was running a lap.

Kiffin handed the ball off on the first play and then completed a pass to freshman running back Dillon Baxter.

Quick hits

Offensive lineman Butch Lewis (groin) is expected to be sidelined for another week, Kiffin said. Defensive end Nick Perry (ankle) is improving but could be sidelined for two weeks….Safety Marshall Jones, who has been slowed by a groin injury, intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown during seven-on-seven drills…. Kiffin said he was pleased with Baxter’s work on the practice field since the freshman was suspended for the season opener for violating team rules. “He had two choices,” Kiffin said. “He could pout around here and think he got a bad deal in this or keep working extremely hard.”