Matt Barkley’s blind side might have taken a big step toward stability Thursday with the return of 6-foot-6, 300-pound Aundrey Walker to practice.
Walker, a sophomore left tackle aiming to succeed first-round NFL draft pick Matt Kalil, had been sidelined for most of training camp because of injuries.
Freshman Max Tuerk and walk-on Nathan Guertler had worked in his spot.
Walker, his right wrist wrapped for a no-pads practice, flashed the nimble, strong skills that Coach Lane Kiffin hopes will provide Heisman Trophy candidate Barkley quality passing time.
“Aundrey did everything today; we’ll continue to push him,” Kiffin said. “It wasn’t a physical practice. Mentally, he’s into it, very focused.”
Walker didn’t stop to talk to reporters who requested an interview with him after practice, but wide receiver Robert Woods was enthused by the event.
“Most definitely,” Woods said. “Getting us another big body means more completions.”
Kiffin said Friday two-a-days “will be a bigger test” but suggested Walker is on course to start the Trojans’ Sept. 1 season opener against Hawaii.
“Oh, yeah,” Kiffin said. “He better.”
Line of concern
Ed Orgeron’s distinctive voice was booming a little more than usual with a Sunday scrimmage looming.
The defensive line coach continues to push a unit that was already undermanned because of senior Devon Kennard’s absence when it also lost 6-5 freshman DeVante Wilson to a torn ligament this week.
“We’re making progress,” Orgeron said, setting up a good news/bad news word play. “We have a ways to go. We just have to keep pushing them.”
The scrimmage should be a revealing portrait as the Trojans bridge the challenge that former USC coach John Robinson alluded to while watching Thursday’s session: where high expectations confront necessary hard preseason preparation.
Orgeron said junior end Morgan Breslin is “coming along but not ready to play every down,” same with sophomore 305-pound tackle Antwaun Woods, who’s doing a “formidable job,” along with George Uko.
Orgeron is counting on senior end Wes Horton to lead the group, and is buoyed by the play of 270-pound freshman Leonard Williams.
Kiffin was asked to assess his discomfort with the situation while hamstrung by the loss of 10 scholarships in the Reggie Bush episode.
“There’s just not really places to go,” Kiffin said. “That’s where the 10 takes its toll. … We’ll try to keep our guys as healthy as we can.”
The Trojans have a wealth of weapons to respond to the new rule that moves kickoffs back to the 35-yard line, with Robert Woods and receiver Marqise Lee taking turns returning for innovative coach John Baxter. Cornerback Nickell Robey said he’ll return punts.
“We’ll have more technique, and we’re more experienced,” Woods said. “If those guys coming at us make a mistake, we’re going to make them pay.”
Linebackers Hayes Pullard (ankle) and Dion Bailey (arm/wrist) returned to practice with no limitations.