April 17, 2009

Practice Insider: McNeal could be used on returns

The USC spring football media guide lists Curtis McNeal at a generous 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds. The same guide lists its cover boy, Taylor Mays, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds.

There's no question that McNeal won't back down when he sees Mays bearing down, but it might be surprising to learn that Mays isn't exactly thrilled to see Moody McNeal heading his way.

"I don't want to tackle him. He's little, short, but he's wide. He's like a fire hydrant," Mays said "He's a lot like (Jacquizz Rodgers) from Oregon State, but I think Moody runs harder. He's going to be a force.

"He's fun to watch, yeah, but he's hard to tackle too. He's not that fun to watch when you're going against him."

USC fans and coaches have enjoyed seeing McNeal breakout this spring, and he's going to be difficult to ignore once USC starts playing games in the fall.

"I think you have got to play him. He can do so much for us," Mays said. "They've got to play him; that's how I feel. He's going to be a hell of a tailback."

USC head coach Pete Carroll has raved about McNeal for much of the spring, and after Friday's practice at Howard Jones Field, Carroll said he's positive McNeal can help USC now.

"He certainly looks like he can contribute and be a factor for us," Carroll said. "There's not a coach on the staff that would hesitate for him to be out there. I checked with everybody."

McNeal's impact could be felt on special teams earliest. With C.J. Gable out, McNeal returned kicks with the first unit.

"I'm going to be a part of the return game this year, I hope," he said. "That's how I'm going to get my feet wet, on special teams. I got to practice that now."

Special teams coordinator Brian Schneider said the same things that make McNeal such a dangerous runner can make him a special returner.

"I love what he's doing. He's made such a big impact. A guy like that, if you can get him a touch on a kickoff or punt return, we have to find a way to do that…" Schneider said. "He's so strong and fast and has a low center of gravity. It's very similar to watching him run the ball. He just breaks a lot of tackles. He hits the hole fast, and he's good in space. You don't want a guy who hesitates at all, and I see that he doesn't every day."

The coaches have all gotten a real long look at McNeal this spring, as the diminutive back has shouldered a heavy load of reps.

"I knew Marc Tyler and I would get the bulk of the reps to see what we can do and how we fit in the running back rotation," McNeal said. "Whether I got this many carries or like no carries, I was going to try and take advantage of them. That's what I'm doing now with the carries get."

McNeal's also handled the physical punishment well.

"My body's good right now. I get a lot of reps and then a lot of therapy," McNeal said. "My body's in good shape. The only thing that's bothering me is I have a wisdom tooth coming in. It's killing me."

McNeal will have the tooth removed this offseason, but hopefully he'll continue to pain defense's with his versatility.

"He's a really good football player, and there's a lot football out here for him on special teams as well as offense," Carroll said. "It won't be hard to find places for him; he can do everything. Because he blocks really well and has terrific hands, there's nothing he can't do in the offense."

Friday's Throws

11-on-11 drills

Matt Barkley
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, screen.
- Complete to Damian Williams, screen.

Aaron Corp
- Complete to McNeal, screen.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, screen.

Mitch Mustain
- Fumbled snap.

Barkley
- Complete to Jordan Cameron, deep, touchdown.

Corp
- Complete to Butler, short gain.
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Handoff to McNeal, stripped by Chris Galippo, offense recovers.

Barkley
- Sacked by Michael Morgan.
- Incomplete to D.J. Shoemate, deflected by Malcolm Smith.

Corp
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, checkdown.

Barkley
- Complete to Brice Butler, great throw, touchdown.

Mustain
- Complete to Williams, medium gain.

Corp
- Fumbled snap.
- Handoff to McNeal.

Mustain
- Incomplete, thrown away.

Barkley
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Complete Scott Stephens for nice gain.
- Handoff to Tyler.

Corp
- Scramble.
- Complete to Travon Patterson, screen.

Mustain
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.

Barkley
- Complete to Anthony McCoy, rollout, touchdown.

Mustain
- Tyler handoff.

Corp
- Lateral pass to McNeal, dropped, a fumble, Malik Jackson recovered.
- Complete to Cameron, deep.

Barkley
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Incomplete to Cameron, deep, overthrown.

Mustain
- Complete to Cameron, good throw, medium gain.

Mustain
- Incomplete intended for Stephens.
- Complete to Cooper Stephenson.
- Incomplete to David Ausberry.
- Complete to Stanley Havili.
- Incomplete Ausberry, Brian Baucham deflected
- Complete to Havili.
- Spiked, incomplete.
- Joe Houston 46-yard field goal, no good.

Corp
- Complete to Ronald Johnson.
- Complete to Williams, nearly intercepted by Shareece Wright.
- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson deep, deflected by Wright.
- Scramble for first down.
- Spiked, incomplete.
- Sacked by Galippo.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson.
- Jordan Congdon 44-yard field goal, no good.

Barkley
- Complete to Havili against prevent defense.
- Spiked, incomplete.
- Complete to McCoy, touchdown; ball deflected in end zone by Mays.

Extra Points

• USC players worked without pads during a quick, clean practice proceeding Saturday's scrimmage.

"We featured a lot of special teams and tried to get that all knocked out so we can feature everything tomorrow," Carroll said. "We reviewed stuff and cleaned things up from the week. Everything's ready to go. I look forward to having a really nice scrimmage."

• The scrimmage will be full speed with special teams segments and four quarters of reps. Carroll said he hoped to run around 80 plays Saturday.

• Players will participate in the Swim with Mike, a fundraiser for the USC Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship Fund, after the scrimmage.

Charles Brown could return from his groin injury for the scrimmage, but Butch Lewis will not be available with his groin injury. Joe McKnight won't be able to go full speed, but Marc Tyler will be back.

• Carroll said the players' performances during Saturday's scrimmages will go a long way towards leaving a lasting impression over the offseason.

"Everybody is going to try and have a big day tomorrow. This is really one of the last two big evaluations we get," he said. "Everything counts, but the scrimmages are always weighed heavily. They're like midterms for these guys."



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