August 8, 2008

Knee injury 'best-case scenario'

Mark Sanchez sat on the back of a cart, staring into the distance. A bag of ice sat on his left knee. His eyes filled with disbelief.

"It was frightening," he said, "and I was scared."

In just the Trojans' third practice of the fall, it seemed like the team would be without its No. 1 quarterback for a good chunk of time.

Hours later Friday night, though, and the news is much better.

Sure, Sanchez is on crutches and wearing a brace that runs from his thigh to his calf, but that look has disappeared.

Now, it's about hope and determination.

An X-ray and MRI confirmed Sanchez's left knee dislocation did not damage any ligaments, tendons or cartilage.

"We lucked out," head coach Pete Carroll said.

There's no set timetable for Sanchez's return. His left knee will be immobilized until Monday, when he'll begin the rehabilitation process. It's unclear whether he'll be ready to play in the Trojans' season opener Aug. 30 at Virginia.

"You hear about people coming back in a short period of time and a long period of time," Sanchez said. "Hopefully, I'm closer to the short end. I'll work to get there.

"I'm trying to get back quickly in the fastest way possible."

Sanchez suffered the injury without contact prior to stretching with the team. He threw a pass to senior Clay Matthews, like he'd done every other practice.

"It was supposed to go to Clay," Sanchez said. "I don't think it got there."

Sanchez fell to the turf and had to be helped off the field. It was there that his kneecap was put back into place by the USC training staff.

While Sanchez left to get tests done, quarterbacks Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp became the day's main attractions.

Mustain said he was glad to have the opportunity, and he tried to make the most of it.

"We hate that it happened - especially for it to happen like that," Mustain said. "But, we got an opportunity today to show what we can do, and we had to take care of it."

Corp and Mustain struggled early before settling in and ending the practice with some big plays during a competition period.

"After I got over the initial shock of it all, I got a lot more comfortable," Corp said.

Corp and Mustain finished practice with a barrage of touchdown strikes to receivers like Damian Williams, Travon Patterson and Vidal Hazelton.

"It was a good way to end practice," Hazelton said. "You could see they got into more of a rhythm and made some big plays."

The team handled the injury with considerable ease.

"I don't think it really does much to us," Hazelton said. "We love Mark to death, but we have to move on. We can't sit around pouting about it."

The group didn't, largely thanks to the quarterbacks' response to Sanchez's accident.

"It's an extraordinary moment and opportunity for these other quarterbacks. We're young no matter how we look at it," Carroll said. "We're so lucky to have guys like Mitch and Aaron who are ready to jump in and take their shots at this thing until Mark's back.

"They're here to play."

While they still have a shot at first-team reps, Sanchez is focused on getting back and taking control of the offense - a thought that had to be far from his mind hours earlier.

"The way they said things like this can happen, it could be a lot worse," he said. "I'm happy about it.

"Really, it's best-case scenario."

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