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August 20, 2009Rey Maualuga had the wild, long hair. He made the animated faces. He crushed quarterbacks and running backs without mercy. He wore goofy clothes and danced behind television reporters. He oozed personality.
Chris Galippo looks like the anti-Maualuga. He's got a shaved head. His arms are covered in cuts and bruises instead of tats.
But Thursday morning, USC head coach Pete Carroll heaped some surprising praise on the man set to take Maualuga's spot in the middle of the defense.
Like Maualuga, Galippo has to make the calls on defense. He has to put people in the right spots. The crazy thing is that Galippo, with exactly zero starts in his career, is apparently more accomplished at that part of the game than his predecessor ever was.
"I think he's better than Rey at that stuff. He's more outgoing, personality wise," Carroll said. "That position calls for that. It helps."
The position calls for a cerebral player, one willing to make tough on-the-field decisions in a moment's notice, and while Galippo hasn't maybe taken a ton of snaps on the field, he's been prepared to take on the responsibility of starting for some time.
"I think from the mental side of our defense and the mental side of the game, absolutely (I feel like a veteran). That's what I've been working on for about three years now," Galippo said. "The physical part, being on the field and gaining experience - not so much. But, at the same time, I've played in a lot of games still. I haven't started a game, but I played in the Rose Bowl last year. I played in 11 other games last year and three in my freshman year.
"I'm not really a rookie anymore."
Carroll said he doesn't think Galippo has any issues with the mental demands placed on a middle linebacker.
"He's a good student of the game. He's really bright and gets it," Carroll said. "That comes naturally to him. He's in command of it. Obviously, he's been gifted in that way for a long time. He already knew the system a year ago. He's in good shape."
But as important as Galippo's mental strengths are his perceived physical deficiencies. At just 20 years old, his back has already undergone two surgeries to repair different herniated discs in different vertebrae.
Luckily, Galippo enters this camp healthier than he's been in some time, suffering only from the normal bumps and bruises associated with fall camp.
And feeling healthy has his mind clear. He's not letting his thoughts drift off towards what-if scenarios that would lead to him playing timidly.
"I think it was maybe a factor last spring ball, when I was coming right off of surgery," he said. "It's just a matter of trusting your rehab, trusting your body and really wanting to get back out there and play. If you don't want to get out there and do it, and do it full speed, you'll never be able to."
And Galippo's health - physically and mentally - is an absolute must for the USC defense and an already thin linebacking crew.
"At this time, it's been extremely important because he's such a good leader. He's done a very good job," Carroll said. "When he's had a lot of young guys rotating in there, he can make the calls and set them up. It really does make a difference.
"He's been really valuable to us."
Aaron Corp took another small step in his recovery Thursday, participating in seven-on-seven drills with the Trojan defense.
Corp took nine reps, completed eight throws and led the USC offense into the end zone multiple times.
"It was obvious he was ready to throw the football," Carroll said. "You can see that he can't move well yet, but I thought he had a great seven-on-seven period. He took (nine) snaps and threw some one-on-ones early. He's getting that part of it back. It's awesome to see him out here. It's really fun for him to get back out here and get a feel for it."
Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said Corp's return to the field will delay any decisions made about who starts for the Trojans when they open the season with San Jose State in just over two weeks.
"You got to let Aaron see when he gets back. You have to give everyone a fair chance," Bates said. "We meet and talk about every position and every player. Behind closed doors we are having conversations on where we are going. Right now we have to wait until Aaron gets back to see where he is as far as the offense, the rhythm and how his knee goes. Until that happens we are just chopping wood and getting better every day."
Still Corp's presence on the field, though limited, brought on a noticeable change in the team. Even safety Will Harris saw fit to tell Corp he was looking forward to intercepting his passes, too.
Carroll said he understands that there are still major hurdles for Corp to clear - like running - but he knows that seeing him on the field is an accomplishment in its own right.
"It is what it is. He'll come back when he can come back. He won't wait a day longer than he has to. He's pushing through the rehab and all the way along," Carroll said. "We understand he has a broken leg, and he's practicing so that's pretty darn good. Whatever he can do, he can do. I'm not really in the concerned mode. I'm just waiting for him to get well, and we'll see what happens. It's a great sign for him to feel like he can get back out here and do something."
• Armond Armstead said he was in serious pain after having his left foot stepped on during a drill early in Thursday's practice. Armstead said he didn't hear any pops or cracks, but he did have a hard time putting weight on the foot.
He was carted off the field and to the locker room for X-rays.
"Over the years, we've had a lot on injuries to that outside bone there on the foot and from different ways - stress fractures and things like that," Carroll said. "This one, I guess, he just got stepped on really good. We've got to find out what happened. I didn't see him go off, but I understand he said it was really sore and tender."
Armstead's been very good for USC as the strongside end, and Carroll said a redshirt freshmen could have a chance with Armstead out.
"A lot of guys are competing for that spot. Wes Horton's had a good camp, and Nick Perry's in there playing in there at that spot," Carroll said. "They're just different styles of guys. We don't want him out. Hopefully, he just got bruised."
• While Corp looked very good during seven-on-seven drills, Matt Barkley looked as impressive. Barkley went 10-for-11 during the period.
• A number of players including James Boyd, Nick Howell, Jordan Campbell and Devon Kennard were held out Thursday morning. Carroll said Kennard is healthy, but that he just wanted to rest the freshman.
• Carroll said he wouldn't be opposed to playing two quarterbacks for the entire season if he felt it would give USC the best chance to win.
"I don't really like the thought of doing that unless it makes sense. I used to always think - like most of you guys think - that you have to have one tailback that plays forever. I was probably of that thought a while back, and I transitioned back easily," Carroll said. "It's a matter of being opened-minded to what's right and not having our feet stuck in the ground for whatever reason. We've got to have a starting quarterback from now on? I don't know that. We have to win. Whatever helps us win each game is the right thing for us to do, and hopefully well make the right decisions to take care of it."
• Bates said Corp's arm looks well rested.
"His arm is great. It's live; it's fresh," he said. "He has been resting and been working on his legs and hasn't thrown a lot of balls. There is a little zip to it and a little pop. His mechanics look strong. He hasn't missed a beat."
• Bates also said he's not been trying to copy New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick by wearing a sweatshirt cut loose at the neck.
"I just like sweating, and in California, the equipment they have a lot of short sleeve shirt and all that," he said. "I enjoy sweating, this is where I exercise and it had a hood, and I look at the forecast and it said it's not going to snow this year, so I cut the hood off."