Eleven men line up on one side of the line of scrimmage, and for things to go exactly as planned, all eleven need to be working in unison.
The individual players must sacrifice for the whole, putting the team's objectives over statistics.
The unit survives by knowing what one another is doing, by trusting one another. Remove one, and the unit likely can survive.
Replace three, though, and things can get dicey.
The USC Trojans are in this situation, getting ready for Saturday's game at Washington State.
Linebackers Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava practiced very sparingly Wednesday, and USC head coach Pete Carroll said he's prepared to be without both of them. Illness could keep Butch Lewis and Everson Griffen from making the trip. Joe McKnight's turf toe could keep him out also.
The No.6 Trojans won't be at full strength, operating with an entire unit comfortable working with one another.
"This is the other side of continuity," he said. "We're trying to get guys ready to play and hopefully, do well together.
"But, it's not like it is when you have all the same guys out there."
When the Trojans take the field against Washington State Saturday, players like Michael Morgan, Malcolm Smith, Broderick Green, Nick Howell and Tyron Smith could all have expanded roles if Cushing, Maiava, Lewis, Griffen and McKnight aren't on the field.
"I don't know about any of these guys. We're preparing to play without those guys. We'll just have to wait and see," Carroll said. "We're letting those guys know they've got to get right and mentally ready to play. In the event we call on them, they need to play like starters."
Cushing said he thinks he'll be fine to play by Saturday, and Carroll said he was optimistic Maiava could go as well.
"We'll be ready to play Saturday," Cushing said. "Every day, I'm getting better physically. I'm not concerned about it, and I know he's feeling better too."
Still, the injuries have provided some Trojans a chance to step up and help the team when it needs them most.
"This is always about opportunity. This is those guys' chance," Carroll said. "They came here to help us win championships and play great football. They've got to do it. Whether they're ready on their time schedule or not, they've got to do it."
Cushing said he's grown confident that the players behind him are ready to help USC operate like it normally does.
"There are very capable guys no matter who's in there," Cushing said. You saw it a couple weeks ago when Michael Morgan came in and played great.
"What we'd like is for me, Kaluka and Rey to play, but if not, we have guys who are interchangeable and ready to come in."
McKnight's injured toe occurred on his final play against Arizona State - a game where he rushed for a career-high 143 yards.
Wednesday, McKnight laced up his cleats and tried to run around some, but the results were not encouraging.
"I ran a little bit today, but it didn't feel right so I put the boot back on," McKnight said. "I'm going to try to go tomorrow and see what happens."
McKnight conceded that he probably wouldn't play Saturday against the Cougars. If USC were playing a different team, though, McKnight thought he'd be able to get on the field.
"I want to play this week, and if we were playing someone else, I could go with pain," he said. "I can play with pain, but they just want me to rest this week and come back for Arizona."
McKnight's toe continues to improve each day, but with the game drawing closer, there might not be enough time.
"It feels better today, but it's difficult to run and cut," he said. "You need your big toe to do all of that.
"It's not looking too good for Saturday."
• In addition to Lewis and Griffen, Jordan Cameron and Jordan Campbell didn't practice with undisclosed illnesses. Carroll said players are not suffering from the same symptoms, dispelling the notion that one particular "thing" is going around.
The uncertainty of players' availability has Carroll scratching his head when it comes to filling out a travel roster.
"We just might have to take the able bodies," Carroll said.
• Damian Williams spent time after practice catching balls from the machine, catching 80 extra balls. He went through the same routine after Tuesday's practice.
• Blake Ayles' injury is not an athletic hernia, Carroll said. Ayles has a hip flexor injury and didn't practice Wednesday. He should be available Saturday, though.
• McKnight said his toe was not x-rayed, and he didn't receive a MRI.
"I don't like getting x-rays," he said. "They can give you bad things to say after that."
• USC was down to just three scholarship running backs with Curtis McNeal out Wednesday after banging his head during Tuesday's practice, Carroll said.
• The Trojan staff decided to let Jeff Byers rest again Wednesday, but Carroll said he expects him to play.
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