LOS ANGELES >> USC concluded spring practice Saturday with a Coliseum scrimmage devoid of tackling.
This time, however, it was by executive order, not defensive shortcomings.
With 20 players sidelined because of injuries, and the Trojans especially thin at tight end and receiver, Coach Lane Kiffin said “there just weren’t enough bodies out there.”
So fans in the stadium and those watching on television saw the Trojans finish workouts with what amounted to a glorified passing drill designed to avoid injuries.
Quarterbacks Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne all passed for touchdowns and receivers Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Victor Blackwell mostly had their way with a secondary that will be one of the Trojans’ major concerns when they reconvene for training camp in preparation for the Aug. 29 season opener at Hawaii.
“We got some things accomplished as far as our new staff together working with our guys implementing our new schemes on defense,” Kiffin said, assessing the 15 spring workouts. “We were very physical up front. I think our offensive line definitely improved. I think our front seven on defense improved.”
Then there is the secondary.
Dion Bailey, who sat out spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to bolster the unit if he moves, as expected, from linebacker to safety. Freshman Su’a Cravens also was performing well before undergoing knee surgery last week. He is expected to return by summer.
Kiffin said this week that Lee and Agholor might also be the Trojans’ two best cornerbacks, but that he was not likely to play them there.
“I’m always open to it,” Lee said after catching eight passes for 148 yards and three touchdowns. “We’ve got a little bit of flaws on the defensive side but I have faith in the corners we do have.”
Kessler completed 15 of 22 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns, 70 yards and a touchdown coming on his first snap, when Lee blew through the second-unit secondary and provided a sign of what was to come.
“I put everything I had into this spring,” Kessler said.
Wittek was 12 for 17 for 145 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions, and Browne was seven for 11 for 80 yards and a touchdown, with an interception.
Kiffin will release a depth chart Monday. Sophomores Kessler and Wittek are expected to be listed as co-No. 1 quarterback, with perhaps the freshman Browne also included. The competition to succeed Matt Barkley as the starter will continue through summer and training camp.
“There’s a lot of people around the country that are trying to find one really good quarterback,” Kiffin said. “I think we have three.”
Safety Demetrius Wright, who is playing through a hip injury, intercepted two passes by Wittek, one on a ball that bounced off Lee. Wright’s big performance came after he was demoted to the second team before the scrimmage.
“’It was good to see him frustrated with that, obviously, and come out and make plays,” Kiffin said. “That’s what we told him: ’If you don’t like it make more plays.’”
Wright said he was duly inspired.
“I’ve got to come out and show these guys I can play,” he said. “I believe I did.”
Jeremy Galten, a lineman who completed his eligibility last fall, was recruited to fill in at tight end. NCAA rules allow former players to participate in a few workouts, a USC spokesman said. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, for example, participated in California’s spring game.
USC players signed autographs on the field after the scrimmage. Kiffin and Lee were seated at a separate table behind a barrier, fans waiting in a line that stretched 30 yards. After the one-hour limit expired, Kiffin and Lee remained for more than 20 minutes until every fan was accommodated.