Largely because of injuries to all four scholarship tight ends, USC's first Saturday spring ball scrimmage was called off and its second was fairly uninspiring from an offensive perspective. On Thursday the Trojans welcomed tight end Xavier Grimble back to the field. He was returning from a turf toe injury suffered during the first week of spring ball.
Grimble said he was not medically cleared to return to the field but was allowed to test his injury on the field to see how far he could push it.
"It still hurts, but I got tired of being away from my team," he said. "They go out and work hard every day. I'm hurting, but I made up my mind that once I could go out there, where I could at least run around and be with my guys, that's what I was going to do."
During his time away from the field, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Grimble kept in shape by cycling and boxing, along with other cardio activities that allowed him to keep pressure off his toe. He said that after his first day back, his toe felt better, and he felt better conditioned than he thought he would.
Of course, as the only tight end back on the field at this time, Grimble took nearly every rep Thursday.
"It's funny, and we always talk about this, because it's happened to all of us at some point in our careers," Grimble said. "There were times last year when we only had one guy and it kept rotating who it was. It can be real hard if you look at it as a bad thing. So you have to look at it as a time to get better, a time to get yourself in shape and see how far we can push ourselves."
Grimble might get some help this weekend, as Junior Pomee is scheduled to return Saturday from a foot injury. Grimble said after watching the offense try to slug its way through last weekend's scrimmage without a tight end and down two wide receivers as well, he is looking forward to hitting the Coliseum turf in full pads.
"It's a big difference," Grimble said of having healthy tight ends. "It's not just in the pass game, but in the run game, too. It's taking a toll on the offense with us being out, so we have to work to get back and keep pressing."
* The injury report remained dotted with many of the same players, even with Grimble's return. Safety Drew McAllister sat out Thursday's practice with a hip injury. Tailback Buck Allen continues to miss time with a hamstring injury. Tight end Randall Telfer attempted to practice but pulled himself out with the same hamstring issue. Lane Kiffin said wide receiver George Farmer received a shot for his hamstring, so he had to stay off it Thursday. He should return Saturday. The biggest news, though, came from the practice field, where tailback Tre Madden broke into the open field and fell to the ground while trying to make a cut. Madden wasn't touched on the play but was helped off the field, and Kiffin said he was carted away. The extent of the injury is unknown.
"There's a concern any time with knees where guys can't really walk afterwards, so we'll find out," Kiffin said when asked how severe the injury might be.
* Tony Burnett had another good day at outside linebacker and finished the practice with a leaping interception of a Cody Kessler pass. He continues to look comfortable moving up a level in the defense, and while it has been only two practices, Kiffin has been pleased.
"He's a very physical player," Kiffin said of Burnett. "After seeing the success of what Dion [Bailey] has done there and moving Tre [Madden] to offense, we looked at our roster and it was another one of those moves where with the reduction of players, we had to investigate. We'll see how it looks for the rest of spring, but it looks good so far. He's actually bigger and stronger than Dion, so hopefully it will work."
* Another position question that was settled dealt with the offensive tackles. While Kevin Graf took reps at left tackle during the first three practices, Aundrey Walker has been there every day since, and that is the way it will stay through the end of spring.
"He fits better over there with his length and his size," Kiffin said of Walker at left tackle. "When you look at prototypical left tackles, that's what they're built like."
Kiffin said that if the Trojans had a game this weekend, Walker would start at left tackle. He added that the coaching staff will continue to monitor the position through spring and fall camp, but that there is an added benefit to leaving Graf at right tackle, as he became familiar with the position while starting 12 games at right tackle last season.
* There weren't many offensive highlights, but one noteworthy occurrence was when wide receiver Marqise Lee took offense to a big hit leveled on him by nose tackle J.R. Tavai. It started a bit of a scuffle among several players, although order was quickly restored.
* Defensively, there were several highlights in addition to Burnett's interception. Cornerback Isiah Wiley recorded an interception of Matt Barkley. But the play that turned the most heads came on a deep incompletion to Lee. The ball landed just over Lee's outstretched hands, but trailing immediately behind him was middle linebacker Lamar Dawson, who ran with Lee the entire way down the field.