Since Lane Kiffin arrived back at USC as their head coach, he has had to face an annual vexing question:
To tackle or not to tackle in practice?
This is a query not found on other college football campuses and one that has been forced upon USC due to NCAA sanctions that have reduced it's scholarship roster to 75 players.
For the last three years, the Trojans and its head coach have had to balance the need to practice the fine art of tackling with the reality that if he does, injuries may mitigate the depth of his roster.
It is a conundrum and one that is further exacerbated by the recent news that three more scholarship players (Christian Heyward, DeVante Wilson and Christian Thomas) are no longer with the program.
And the loss of those three players couldn't have come at a worse time.
USC enters spring practice with a total of 86 players listed on their official spring roster, and that includes 20 players not on scholarships.
That means the Trojans have 63 scholarship players for the early practice session with six more to arrive in the fall.
So barring injury or academic suspensions, the Trojans are looking to kick off the 2013 season with 69 scholarship players or 16 less than the vast majority of other programs.
While this reduced roster is troubling enough, it is all the more problematic when you consider that the Trojans will be welcoming five new coaches including defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Pendergast—who will not only be replacing Monte Kiffin but his 4-3 defensive scheme—will try to implement a new 3-4 alignment accompanied by a 5-2 variation that gives the Trojans a completely new look on that side of the ball.
Good luck doing that without tackling in practice.
In the past, the lack of tackling in spring and fall was blamed for poor defensive performances, especially in 2010.
Now Kiffin and his staff are faced with that same old nagging question and in answering that, must determine which is the lesser of two evils.
Hone one of the most important aspects of the game—tackling—in practice and pray no one gets injured or go easy and hope that when confronted with the real thing, your defensive players will remember how to get the opposing players to the ground.
It is quandary for Kiffin and one question that he can't afford to get wrong.
Because in 2013, no one will want to hear any excuses for another poor season and moaning about tackling—or lack thereof—will fall on deaf ears.
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