Sophomore Dillon Baxter led all running backs at USC’s Sunday scrimmage with 101 yards. With Marc Tyler suspended and Curtis McNeal tweaking his knee, Dillon looks like he is the front runner for the starters job. Photo by Jason Lewis
Running back is not the only position up for grabs. The wide receiver spot on the other side of Robert Woods (Serra HS) is open, and Freshman Marqise Lee (17, Serra HS) is working hard to get it. He has been impressive throughout camp, and he led all receivers with 87 receiving yards on Sunday. Photo by Jason Lewis
The starting tailback position at USC appears to be up for grabs in the weeks since Marc Tyler’s suspension.
Tyler, who led the team in rushing last season, has been suspended for the season opener and possibly longer.
Redshirt junior Curtis McNeal seemed to have the early lead on the starting job, looking impressive in practices with his physical style. However a recent injury and solid efforts by other tailbacks have left the question of who starts in the backfield on Sept. 3 unanswered.
McNeal suffered a knee injury in Sunday’s scrimmage, finishing with only three carries for only 14 yards.
In McNeal’s absence, Dillon Baxter stole the show. The sophomore had 101 yards on 16 carries, to go along with a 21-yard touchdown reception.
Baxter had flashes last season, when he finished fourth in rushing with 252 yards. However some felt that the multidimensional runner had maturity issues. Whatever it was that gave people that perception, Baxter says that it is all behind him.
“Last year I was really immature, and since then I‘ve grown up a lot and I‘ve learned a lot… just move past that and just continue on what I‘m doing,” Baxter said.
DJ Morgan is another running back who is expected to be in the mix this season. After recovering from a knee injury that kept him out last year, the redshirt freshman is ready to display the skills that made him a star at Taft High School.
“I think I improved a lot,” said Morgan, who finished Sunday‘s scrimmage with 44 yards on eight carries. “Last year I didn’t know any plays, now this year I think I know all of them. I’m picking up my blocks and I’m just improving all around.”
Morgan has looked good for the most part in camp, but soreness in his knee sidelined him for the second half of Sunday’s scrimmage.
“My knee feels alright,” Morgan said. “Today I kind of tweaked it a little bit, so they sidelined me for a little bit in the second half. I’m rehabbing, trying to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
Freshman Amir Carlisle could also be in contention. He had a solid practice, carrying the ball 15 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Although there has been no official word from the school on the extent of his injury, McNeal is confident that he will be ready for the season opener.
After missing last season due to being academically ineligible, the Venice High product is looking to bounce back this year, and says that he is “still trying to get everything I need to do to earn that starting spot.”
Regardless of who starts in the backfield this season, the Trojans will be looking to improve on last year’s 8-5 record, which saw them lose to rival Notre Dame for the first time since 2001.
The running game will also be helped by an improved effort from the offensive line, which Baxter said “was consistent on their blocks” in Sunday’s scrimmage.
Without the allure of playing in a bowl game as a part of the school’s probation, the goal remains the same. As McNeal put it, “we‘re trying to go 12-0.”
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