Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 3/30/12
USC quarterback Matt Barkley threw his seventh interception of spring practice on Thursday and, as Coach Lane Kiffin noted, it wasn't the end of the world. It wasn't the end of Barkley's Heisman Trophy chances, either. Kiffin even joked when asked if he was alarmed over Barkley's wayward practice throws, including the pass picked off Thursday by safety Demetrius Wright. "He can still declare for the supplemental draft, so I can't yell at him quite yet," Kiffin said after the session at Howard Jones Field. The interceptions are just one sign that this spring hasn't been business as usual for Barkley, who announced in December that he would return for his final season with the Trojans. Barkley isn't taking as many reps as he has in previous spring practices. Kiffin has said that's because he wants to give aspiring backups Cody Kessler and Max Wittek a chance to learn and compete, which is reasonable. But Kiffin, wisely, is also being cautious. No need for Barkley to get banged up now, with the prospect of a monster season and national championship beckoning a few months down the road. So Barkley has been watching a lot, helping Kessler and Wittek at every opportunity and biding his time. His arm, he said, "feels better than it has been in the past," and he's making the most of his new job as an unofficial quarterbacks coach. "Teaching is the best way to learn, in my opinion, because you do have to regurgitate all your knowledge and it makes you question, 'Is that right, or do I have to go back and check facts?' and all that stuff," he said. "It's a different role, but I think it's making me a smarter quarterback overall." So how would Coach Barkley advise quarterback Barkley? "Be patient. Because sometimes it can be frustrating out there with missed blocks and everything, or routes that are run the wrong way," he said. "Just play within the boundaries of your own self and don't let the outside factors influence how you play." Kiffin is willing to be patient too. He attributed Barkley's mistakes to the impact injuries have had on the Trojans this spring, including wide receiver Robert Woods' slower-than-expected recovery from ankle surgery. Players have been all over. So have some of Barkley's throws. "He wants to go to that next level with guys . So the guys that are there, he's doing it with and he's getting more comfortable with and hopefully we'll get the rest of these guys back for him," Kiffin said. "You're not as frustrated as you normally would be with a guy forcing it downfield because you feel also some of his pain because his weapons aren't out here." But yes, Kiffin is counting those interceptions. "It is abnormal for him. We had that out of him. Cody Kessler hadn't thrown one," Kiffin said. "So I think part of it is him getting a little bit bored. You know, he scrambles out and gets frustrated because he doesn't have his normal guys in there. And throws the ball downfield. "We'll get him back out of it. We don't like it. But as we get closer to game time we'll get him back to normal." When Barkley announced he would stay for his senior year, Kiffin promised to challenge him more. The coach said that process has begun. "We've already put some new things in. You wouldn't notice them. They're just different routes and concepts from different people in the NFL that we've taken," Kiffin said. "So it's just been good to expose him to those and really challenge him to continue to master what he already has, but also add to his game." The bulk of that challenge will come later as the season gets closer. In the meantime, Barkley is taking his own advice and being patient. "That's just my personality. That's just who I am," he said. "Obviously, I want more reps, but I understand the need for this team to be better. We're just trying to get everyone up to speed." Even if that means he has to take it slow for now. --Helene Elliott
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