Four-down territory: Kiffin policing at USC

…Could a freshman step in and start at middle linebacker this season for Miami?

The overwhelming sentiment throughout the offseason was that fifth-year senior Kylan Robinson, a career reserve, would ultimately man the middle for the Hurricanes defense. If he showed signs that he would be unable to be effective in a starting role, senior outside linebacker Colin McCarthy would likely be moved inside and junior Ramon Buchanon would likely step in for McCarthy on the outside.

But Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald teases the idea of highly recruited freshman Kevin Nelson wresting the starting gig away during fall camp. Nelson, who chose the ‘Canes over his hometown Florida Gators in June 2009, isn’t the biggest backer at 6-foot, 213 pounds. But Navarro writes that the 20-year-old Nelson could step in and win the job if he displays shades of Ray Lewis. Of course, every coach in America would be drooling if a freshman impressed that much in fall camp.

Shannon, however, has said that Robinson made huge strides throughout the spring, so it would take a very disappointing fall camp for him to lose his grip on the job. But as Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald wrote, Nelson could eventually challenge for time at middle linebacker, because according to WQAM-560 UM analyst Don Bailey Jr., it “is the Achilles’ heel of this defense.” And as much as Shannon may want Robinson to take control of the middle, other members of the defensive staff are less convinced about his ability to be effective as a starter.

…The biggest question for Penn State entering the opening of preseason camp Thursday was who would win the starting quarterback job that was occupied by Daryll Clark the last two years. The overwhelming thought was that Kevin Newsome, a highly touted high school prospect and the backup to Clark last year as a freshman, was the favorite to win the job. Former walk-on Matt McGloin, the third-stringer last season, was expected to back up Newsome. But that was before the two combined to go 15 of 35 through the air for 160 yards, with McGloin adding two interceptions, in the team’s spring game. Granted it was just an exhibition game, but adding intrigue to the story was the play of early enrollee Paul Jones, who finished 5 of 8 for 67 yards and led a more spirited offense while under center — albeit in limited action — connecting with freshman wide receiver Shawney Kersey for two touchdowns in the game. The performance led many to wonder if head coach Joe Paterno would roll the dice on starting a freshman signal-caller in the opener if Jones continued to display his talent during fall camp. Fellow freshman Robert Bolden will also see preseason snaps.

With Alabama on the schedule in the second week of the season, it’s unlikely that Paterno and his son/quarterback coach, Jay, would lean on a freshman under center. But it would make the decision a lot easier if the more experienced quarterbacks on the roster picked up the pace this fall and made the coaching staff more confident about the position heading into the season. Jay Paterno noted that no one has an edge as of now between the more athletic Newsome, the more traditional dropback passer McGloin and the two freshmen.

Jabaal SheardICONIt looks like Pittsburgh DE Jabaal Sheard won't miss any time on the field after all.

…I’m still stunned that Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard was reinstated to the team on Thursday. Head coach Dave Wannstedt said at the time that the senior would be subject to “internal discipline and accountability.” Whatever that entails, it looks like Sheard will not miss any time on the field despite throwing a man through a glass door. Sheard pleaded down to a disorderly conduct charge this week.

On Friday, Wannstedt went on the defensive (As I remarked on Twitter recently, it’s always awesome to hear Wannie talk. Here’s video of his statement).

The head coach said that he is very comfortable with the decision to reinstate Sheard after gathering all of the information surrounding the case — including additional information about the incident that has not yet been released to the public but which ultimately helped make his decision.

Even if we find out that Sheard did not instigate the fight and was merely practicing self-defense, I still find it questionable at best that Sheard will not miss any time. I can’t help but wonder if a tough season-opener at Utah in less than four weeks had anything to do with the decision.

…A fight that never reached the police blotter was the one that occurred in Los Angeles between USC’s Stanley Havili and T.J. Bryant. Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin laid the smack down, however, on Friday when he played sheriff and announced that Havili has been suspended from the team indefinitely. The fullback broke the left cheekbone of the cornerback during a fight a week ago. According to Kiffin, Havili punched Bryant toward the end of a players-only workout after the two exchanged words during a conditioning drill. Bryant underwent surgery Thursday and is expected to miss three to four weeks.

The former Tennessee coach isn’t sure if Havili’s suspension will include the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii on Sept. 2. But it’s going to be interesting if Havili, a fifth-year senior, misses time on the field for this incident, especially after Bryant apparently went to Kiffin and asked that his teammate not get suspended.

While the actions of both Havili and Pittsburgh’s Sheard can’t be condoned, it’s clear that one incident was a little more extreme than the other. Will the punishment ultimately differ?

Havili was USC's fourth-leading rusher and No. 4 receiver in 2009.

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