LOS ANGELES -- With two clear-cut options at offensive tackle, where Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker start is a far more intriguing question than if they will start. After beginning the spring with Graf at left tackle and Walker on the right side, last week saw the two switch. On Tuesday, the tackles remained at their switched positions, with Graf on the right and Walker on the left.
Offensive line coach James Cregg was quick to shut down the thought that this alignment would have any bearing on the depth chart going forward, and nothing about Tuesday’s setup seems permanent.
“By all means, we’ve not done any depth chart decisions,” Cregg said. “I think they can be flopped around. They’re both right and left-brained, as far as that goes. Right now we’re not even close to making a decision.”
Walker said after practice that there had been no update to what happened two weeks ago, when coaches told him to move to the left side and compete for a starting spot. While Kiffin said the plan was to review the progress of the two players after one week apiece at left tackle, Walker wasn’t told after Saturday’s practice that he’d be moving back to the right side.
“I’m just here to help the team,” Walker said. “Anywhere my coaches want me to play, I’m going to play.”
Walker said he is feeling more comfortable on the left side and has been studying the way Matt Kalil played the position during his USC career.
“Matt was…,” Walker said before trailing off. “There’s no word to describe him. I respect his game and I respect him on the field and off it…I looked up to him, but he’s gone now and I can’t watch him on the field anymore, so I’m just watching his film.”
Graf certainly shouldn’t be discounted in the discussion at left tackle, and the battle for the position has a chance to continue through the spring.
“They’ve been working hard,” Cregg said. “I think Aundrey is getting better every day he’s out there and it’s the same with Kevin. Kevin is a guy I can really trust and count on. Both guys are competing hard, handling their business, and that’s all we can ask of them.”
• Injury report: Ryan Henderson, Khaled Holmes, Buck Allen, Soma Vainuku, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer all sat out Tuesday’s practice. George Farmer participated in some early drills, but left after his hamstring tightened up. Head coach Lane Kiffin said Farmer is closing in on a full return. Cody Temple sat out practice and will undergo surgery on his right ankle. Temple will miss the remainder of spring ball, but according to Kiffin, should be back for fall camp. Temple injured his ankle earlier during the spring, but tried to push through it. Kiffin said the redshirt freshman had been playing well at defensive tackle, providing strength at the point of attack and serving as a run plugger.
• Kiffin said he was pleased with the overall intensity on Tuesday, and that it was “probably one of the better days offensively, comparable to the defense.”
That offensive charge was led by wide receivers Marqise Lee and De’Von Flournoy. Kiffin had several glowing things to say about both after practice.
“It’s the same thing,” Kiffin said of Lee. “He may be the best one to ever play here if he keeps working hard. He does everything. There’s not a play he doesn’t make. He’s as good as they come.
“Think about what he just did. He went and won the long jump (at the Trojan Invitational last Saturday), after everyone else was practicing the long jump all week and doing whatever they do for track, and he’s out here for a two-and-a-half-hour practice and running sprints afterwards, within 48 hours of the meet.”
Lee was seemingly involved in about 75 percent of the pass plays on Tuesday, but Kiffin shook off the notion that fatigue would become an issue for the standout sophomore.
“He’s a really unique individual,” Kiffin said of Lee. “For whatever reason, there’s two of them like that, with him and Nickell [Robey]. They just go forever. It doesn’t matter how long practice is. They’re just special like that.”
When there is a standout performer during practice, Kiffin usually doesn’t hesitate to call them out during the post-practice interview session, jumping into it before any questions are asked. On Tuesday, Flournoy received the unprompted praise.
“For the second practice in a row, De’Von Flournoy did a number of things,” Kiffin said. “Anytime there’s an opportunity, you like to see players seize their opportunity, which he has done.”
• Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek continue to battle for the backup spot. Kiffin said neither has separated himself to this point, and no timetable exists to make a decision on naming a No. 2.
“If it unfolds and somebody really creates a separation, then we’d make (a decision),” Kiffin said. “But if there’s not, then there’s no reason to right now because we want to continue to develop both of them.”
• The offense was able to put some things together in the passing and running games, but the defensive had a solid day as well, especially generating pressure on the quarterback. Hayes Pullard, Devon Kennard and Antwaun Woods all registered early sacks. Jawanza Starling added another, and Wes Horton and Kennard shared a sack to put a stop to a two-minute drive.
• One of the defensive highlights came from Greg Townsend Jr., who intercepted a Wittek pass at the line. Offensively, it was from Victor Blackwell, who hauled in a perfect throw from Wittek down the sideline against great coverage from Anthony Brown.
• Perhaps the biggest defensive play came courtesy of Brian Baucham, who stripped Tre Madden in the open field and fell on the ball for a recovery. It was yet another example of Baucham making a big play this spring.
Madden had several very nice plays, but it was the second practice where he has put the ball on the ground.
“When you haven’t played running back at all in college and you’re used to high school…unfortunately that’s a normal thing that happens,” Kiffin said. “It’s very different by the way the defense goes after the ball and how intense it is.”
• Kiffin also had plenty of praise for Madden.
“He continues to flash every day in practice,” he said. “He has great forward lean and body control. You rarely see him on the ground. Think how many times guys are throwing him around and he stays up. He’s a special athlete.”
• The Trojans ran two 2-minute drills to finish practice. Matt Barkley converted two fourth downs by finding Lee and Flournoy, but the drive stalled. Wittek then entered and found Flournoy on three consecutive passes before the aforementioned play to Blackwell. Kevin Greene then stepped up with a stop and the defense eventually forced a field goal, which Andre Heidari knocked through from 40 yards away.