October 9, 2008

Practice Insider: Trojans get healthier

Knee injuries, neck injuries, bum ankles and broken fingers haven't slowed down the Trojans in the past, and this week wasn't any different.

While a handful of bumps, bruises, sprains and breaks kept some important Trojans off the practice field, news coming out of Thursday's practice all seems to be good.

Words like "questionable" and "uncertain" have given way to "encouraging" and "probable."

Quarterback Mark Sanchez has not taken part in an entire practice still, but USC head coach Pete Carroll said he thinks he's seen enough to name Sanchez starter for the Trojans' game against Arizona State Saturday.

"It looks headed that way," Carroll said. "We just need to make sure he responds."

Sanchez handled a heavier workload than he had in any other practice this week, taking a good chunk of the first-team reps. He rolled out to both sides and showed no real signs of a hindered mobility.

"I thought he had a nice practice. He rebounded well (physically) from yesterday," offensive coordinate Steve Sarkisian said. "We'll have to evaluate it tonight and again tomorrow to make sure the swelling stays down."

Sanchez wasn't available to the media Thursday, but he jogged off the field with no signs of discomfort. The Trojans' cornerback wasn't the only player to return just in time to take on Arizona State.

Fullback Stanley Havili did not practice, but he did say he's fine to play after suffering a stinger Tuesday. Linebacker Michael Morgan returned from a concussion, and Rey Maualuga continued to look good on a bum knee - and all will play Saturday.

"We've been very fortunate," Carroll said.

Sanchez's return should lift the offense, wide receiver Patrick Turner said.

"It's always good to have someone like Mark," Turner said.

PTp'er

Another day means another good practice for Turner.

The Trojans' eldest receiver has continued to assert himself on the practice field and on Saturdays in his senior season.

After losing at Oregon State, Turner said the Trojans win over Oregon helped right the ship.

"It felt good going into a game like that and leaving with a win over a high-caliber team," Turner said. "We felt they were legit and were going to bring it. We just executed and made plays all-round on offense and defense."

Turner has been a key to the spike in USC's air attack, and he said whether the Trojans get off to a slow start or a hot one, he's confident they'll figure things out.

"You just basically get a feel for the team. You get a sense of what they're running and their schemes," Turner said. "We just feel them out a little bit, and once we get rolling, we just take it from there."

McKnight to the bench

As a general rule, the USC coaching staff has made it point to find ways to get Joe McKnight on the field. Saturday, at least for awhile, they'll keep him off of it.

Carroll said Thursday that running back Stafon Johnson would be the Trojans' starting punt returner.

The change at the top doesn't mean McKnight's been taking it easy on special teams.

"My confidence is back up," McKnight said. "I made a correction; my hands were too low before I would catch it. As the ball was coming, I was bringing my hands up.

"This week, I just had my hands ready when the ball got there."

McKnight didn't practice Wednesday after tweaking his knee. The knee swelled up, but by Thursday, he said it felt fine.

Extra Points

• Carroll said he's not concerned with his team's slow starts, and he hasn't stressed it in meetings.

"I'm much more concerned with how we finish than we start," Carroll said.

Carroll spoke about USC being a very good second-half team, and the numbers back him up. The Trojans have outscored their opponents 80-6 after halftime.

• Kicker Joe Houston worked a number of on-side kicks with David Buehler acting as the receiver. Houston kicked to the same spot on the field multiple times in a row.

• Ryan Davidson inspired players and coaches when he visited with the team Thursday. Davidson, who lives in Wisconsin, traveled to California for this Saturday's game.

Davidson, now 15, has been a visible member of the Trojan family for over four years, all while battling cancer.

"He's a warrior," Carroll said.

• Ever wonder how Sarkisian measures the proficiency of his offense pre-snap? He watches the play clock. Sarkisian said he wants the offense to break the huddle with 20 seconds or so on the clock and snap the ball with 10 seconds on the clock.

"When we're doing that, we're playing fast, we're in rhythm and we have good tempo," he said.


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