Postcard from camp: USC
McKnight shines, defense dominates, Danelo tribute
Posted: Tuesday August 14, 2007 12:34PM; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2007 6:51PM
LOS ANGELES -- Joe McKnight is not allowed to talk to the media. Not yet, anyway. Due to the team's freshman policy all McKnight can do at this point is offer up a smile as he runs off the field after practice.
It's just as well. There aren't many words that can describe his style of play. Much like his "presidential" predecessor, his talents need to be seen not heard to be truly appreciated.
Sure, I could describe how McKnight zigzagged across the field and around would-be tacklers during his first scrimmage under the bright lights of the Coliseum for a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown last Sunday. Or illustrate how he left All-America linebacker Keith Rivers in his dust after catching a simple flare pass and exploded into end zone with the closest defender nearly 20 yards away during his second day of practice. Yet, somehow it wouldn't quite do him justice.
"I remember exactly what I did the first time I watched Joe on tape," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "I quickly turned the thing off because I knew he was the real deal and he could do all of the stuff that we wanted to do. I just wanted to know who he was and where he was from."
While Carroll may have cut short his initial viewing to quickly find out who the elusive tailback was and how he could get him in a cardinal and gold uniform, the Trojans boss watched it over and over again with coaches and the thought that came to their minds was how similar he looked to Reggie Bush.
Although Carroll and other coaches, such as Ken Norton Jr., who helped recruit McKnight out of Louisiana, have tried to reel back some of the comparisons and adjectives they use to describe McKnight behind closed doors when speaking to the media, it's hard to bottle it up.
"We can't help it sometimes," said Carroll. "When we saw Joe and saw the versatility that he displayed in high school as a junior, we started thinking that he could be the same kind of player [as Bush]. Here's a guy that can do all of the running back stuff and be the receiver that we like to move around. We have had that in mind for Joe the whole time and he has not disappointed us."
After McKnight tallied 120 yards on six touches in his first taste of action at the Coliseum (highlighted by the 74-yard punt-return for a touchdown), Carroll simply shrugged his shoulders when asked to describe the freshman's debut.
"We've seen Joe do that so many times," he said. "He told me he ran something like 16 kicks back in high school for touchdowns, so when I saw him out in the open I figured he was gone. He had been there so many times that he knows how to make a great finish."
Despite the hype surrounding his every move, it's not hard for McKnight to stay humble on the sun-soaked practice fields on USC's campus. He is simply one of 10 blue-chip tailbacks on the Trojans' roster, and if Carroll were forced to make a depth chart today for the season opener McKnight would have a hard time cracking the top half of the order with the bevy of veterans in front of him.
"We're trying to see where they all fit and I don't think it's something we'll figure out by the first game," said Carroll. "It might take us a few weeks."
Until then, McKnight will be treated just like every other freshman. A piece of tape with his name scrawled on it will be affixed to the front of his helmet, he will be prohibited from speaking to the media until he is given permission, and he will be hounded by fans for autographs as he tries to walk off the practice field.
OK, so maybe he's not like every other freshman. Then again, Carroll already knew that. And judging from McKnight's progression so far in camp, it's only a matter of time before the nation finds that out as well.
1. USC's defense is already in mid-season form and the team isn't even midway through camp yet. When Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said the Trojans may be the greatest team in NCAA history, he was clearly exaggerating. It might not be such a stretch, however, to call this year's USC defense the greatest Carroll has ever coached. Ten defensive starters return from last season, spearheaded by the deepest linebacker corps in the country (Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, to name a few).
"It's the best linebacking group we've ever had," said Carroll. "There are three big NFL draft picks from those starters. It's going to be exciting to see what they could do."
What they've done so far is make life miserable for the offensive units they face in practice. While the defense will certainly be the strength of the team, it's almost impossible for coaches to truly gauge how good the offense could be when they're facing the toughest defense they'll see all year day-in and day-out in practice.
"They're all game changers," says quarterback John David Booty. "It's fun to go out there and compete against those guys each and everyday. It makes us better going against them. Going against these guys is what makes us who we are on Saturdays."