Marqise Lee caught a nation-leading 112 passes this season, which helped the USC sophomore become an All-American and a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
On Wednesday, Lee was en route to an awards show in Florida and quarterback Matt Barkley was returning from a New York awards ceremony, so both were absent when the Trojans practiced for the first time in preparation for the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.
But Coach Lane Kiffin fielded questions about comments Barkley made this week regarding USC's offense and its reliance on Lee. On Monday, during a radio and television interview on the "Dan Patrick Show," Barkley said Lee was special, that he did a great job for the Trojans, and that he was at times unstoppable.
"I think at times, though, I think we focused too much on him as a team and we took away from other great playmakers like Robert Woods and our tight ends who are phenomenal players, to where defenses saw that and just kind of overcrowded Marqise," Barkley said. "But he still managed to make plays, but I think we could have done a better job of utilizing other players."
Asked after practice what he thought of Barkley's comments, Kiffin told reporters he had not heard them and did not know the context.
Asked whether he thought it was true that the offense focused too much on Lee instead of Woods and the tight ends, Kiffin said, "No I don't think that's true. Basically, Marqise Lee had one more catch than Robert Woods did the year before, so when you have players like that you want to make sure they're touching the ball."
Barkley is still recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to sit out the season finale against Notre Dame. His status for the Sun Bowl remains uncertain.
Kiffin said he anticipated the senior would play and that NFL pre-draft considerations would not play a role in the decision.
"It's a game that we really want to win," he said, "so if he can play, he can play, just like everybody else."
Because of NCAA sanctions, Wednesday's bowl workout was the Trojans' first since 2009.
Several players said they were looking forward to the bowl-week experience despite it being in El Paso, rather than a Bowl Championship Series locale.
Woods, a junior, will play in a bowl game for the first time.
"Usually, we got to cities where we're there for two days," he said of trips, "so we'll be there for a couple more days in a nice hotel and get treated nicely. ... Might as well enjoy it."
Woods said he would submit paperwork for an NFL draft evaluation.
With some coaches on the road recruiting, senior players oversaw several position groups during practice. ... The Trojans worked out at the Coliseum because their practice fields are being re-sodded, a school official said. ... The Trojans are scheduled to practice again Friday.