LOS ANGELES — Lane Kiffin has made it clear in recent days that whenever his star wide receiver, Marqise Lee, returns to the practice field, he won’t coast until the start of the season.
As Kiffin puts it, Lee needs some work.
The words were by choice and maybe surprising to some. The question was posed to Kiffin if he’d be more cautious with Lee in practice in light of his recent shoulder injury that drew national attention and struck concern into the hearts of Trojan fans near and far.
His response? No. He made clear his reasons why.
“Marqise’s game is a little bit off right now,” Kiffin told reporters recently.
It didn’t stop there. Kiffin followed it up the next day by reiterating his comments from the night before.
“Marqise has a lot of stuff to work on,” Kiffin said. “He’s a young player.
“As we broke down stuff in the offseason there are some inconsistencies in his game.”
The coach awaits the receiver’s return to the practice field. Lee remains day-to-day with a bone bruise and on Monday, missed his third consecutive day of practice. As Kiffin waits, he’s made comments that point to the “details” of the receiver position that Lee needs to improve on. With that, route running and ball security are at the top of the list.
“It’s not just about catching and running faster than everybody,” Kiffin said.
If you didn’t know any better, Kiffin’s recent comments about Lee could come across as having the tone that the USC coach was calling out his best player.
Lee is regarded as the best receiver in all of college football. He’s the first Biletnikoff Award winner in school history and will enter the season as a sure fire Heisman candidate.
Yet, Kiffin has used words or phrases like “young,” his game being “a little bit off,” and having “a lot” of stuff to work on to describe the player who unexpectedly turned heads once he stepped onto the USC campus.
To the head coach’s point, Lee is young when it comes to playing the position. As a junior in high school, he was behind the likes of current Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods, USC teammate George Farmer, Colorado receiver Paul Richardson Jr. and a host of others on the Serra football depth chart – no higher than sixth.
Lee turned in a phenomenal senior year as a receiver and proved it wasn’t a fluke by being named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year the following season at USC.
It was during that time Kiffin declared Lee could go down as the best receiver to ever put on a USC uniform.
High praise. And if Lee’s going to get there, he’s going to have to put in the work. Lee, according to the Trojans’ head coach, understands that.
“Marqise is one of the best kids we’ve ever had on and off the field,” Kiffin said. “The ability to coach him, the ability to listen – that’s not normal for a Biletnikoff Award winner.
“When you sit down with him one-on-one and you explain to him ‘You better get back on the field here because you got a lot of work to do,’ and he goes ‘You’re right.'”