USC began spring football practice Tuesday with several marquee returning players and five new ones.
But the Trojans were also missing a player who is regarded as a key to success in the 2015 season.
Bryce Dixon, the only returning scholarship tight end who played last season, was absent because of an unspecified student-conduct issue, Coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian declined to say more about it, citing privacy laws and instruction from the university’s general counsel.
Last season as a freshman, Dixon was suspended from the Nov. 13 against California because of what Sarkisian said was an unspecified student-conduct issue. Sarkisian said then that the situation was “in the university’s hands.”
Dixon practiced the next week and played against UCLA.
Dixon finished the season with 14 receptions, four for touchdowns.
Dixon’s situation puts the Trojans in a bind.
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, a junior who was academically ineligible last season, is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster. Cope-Fitzpatrick practiced Tuesday but his status for the fall is to be determined.
Quarterback Cody Kessler will almost certainly open the season in the Heisman Trophy discussion, but the fifth-year senior reiterated that he was not interested in individual glory.
“Obviously, it’s humbling,” he said. “It’s a very prestigious award and I would never want to say it doesn’t mean anything to me because I think it’s pretty cool.”
But Kessler cited former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, last year’s Heisman winner.
“He said he’d trade his Heisman Trophy for a national championship any day,” Kessler said.
Kessler passed for 39 touchdowns, with five interceptions, last season.
He said he would work this spring to improve on anticipating throws and eliminating sacks.
“Getting the ball out on time and maybe throwing it if the guy hasn’t broke yet, or even if he’s not open yet, kind of putting it where it needs to be,” Kessler said. “It’s just going to come with timing and working with these guys more.”
Kessler was impressed by freshman quarterback Ricky Town, who enrolled in January. Kessler was an early enrollee in 2011.
“I know the feeling,” he said. “It’s kind of a different world or new setting but he did good, he handled himself very well and made some plays and made some good throws.”
Tailback Tre Madden, sidelined last season because of a toe injury, practiced and said he would be ready for the start of the season.
“It’s getting better every day,” he said.
Madden is expected to be held out of contact drills.
Madden’s positive outlook was a stark contrast to late September when he suffered pain after sitting out for more than a month.
“I was pretty down on myself because I thought I was going to be able to go,” he said. “But then it’s in the past now.
“I’m ready to move forward.”
Sarkisian expects Madden and junior Justin Davis to provide a productive combination.
“Justin has got such great speed and cutting ability, and then Tre has got such a hammer mentality,” Sarkisian said. " I think they’re going to be a great complement to each other.”
The workout, which lasted a little more than two hours, was a smoother experience than last season’s first practice, when players were introduced to a new system and coaches. “We’re a little bit more of a well-oiled machine,” Sarkisian said. “I think the guys know what to expect."… Linebacker Anthony Sarao was held out of most drills because of a foot injury, Sarkisian said.
Linebacker Lamar Dawson, sidelined last season while recovering from knee surgery, was among the players who impressed Sarkisian. “He seemed like a different player to me,” Sarkisian said, adding, “He looked really confident."… Third-year sophomore Chris Hawkins, who played cornerback last season, worked at safety. Hawkins had practiced at safety before the Holiday Bowl. … Adoree’ Jackson played cornerback for the entire practice Tuesday. He will play receiver on Thursday, Sarkisian said.