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August 15, 2008

Practice Insider: DB's making offense work

There's no way around it. Since Mark Sanchez went down with a knee injury, things on the offensive side of the ball haven't been all that good.

The unit has struggled to make significant plays on the ground or through the air, and questions are being asked about the quarterback play.

Maybe, though, the guys to blame aren't in the yellow jerseys or the white jerseys. Maybe, it's Rocky Seto's guys in the cardinal.

"The defense is really playing well right now," cornerback Cary Harris said. "We're executing our assignments and playing good coverage out there. Everything's working pretty well."

Harris, Shareece Wright, Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas are locked into one of the lesser-discussed battles this fall.

"For me, it's nothing new. Since we were freshmen, it's been about competition," Thomas said. "There's never any animosity between the players because in the end, it's up to the coaches.

"All we do is just do the best we can do everyday and leave it up to the coaches."

And even the coaches don't know what to make of it.

"We're constantly flipping the order of things," Seto said. "Really, we like them all quite honestly. There's merit to playing all of them."

Head coach Pete Carroll agrees, and he's enjoyed watching the four veterans battle for playing time.

"We're fortunate to have players of that caliber all battling, and we plan on playing them all," Carroll said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we split their time in the first game.

"They all deserve to play, and they're all good enough."

Through just over a week of camp, it appears Harris and Wright will be the starters, with Pinkard coming in during nickel situations. Thomas, and maybe T.J. Bryant, would rotate in as needed.

"At that position, it's nice to have a little break once in a while," Seto said. "All four have been operating on a high level."

With both Thomas and Pinkard coming back from serious injuries that had them sidelined during 2007, the group has received an enormous boost.

"It's like doubling our production," Seto said. "Those guys are tremendous football players."

Friday, practice ended with Wright making a pair of great plays. First, he came off the edge to sack Aaron Corp. Then, he went one-on-one with Brandon Carswell, knocking a pass away in the end zone.

Sustained success from the group means Carroll should be able to release extra players towards the backfield.

"Good corner play affects you," Carroll said. "If you can hold up on the outside with your guys, you can definitely do stuff that allows you to play the run very aggressively. It's always been a big factor.

"The better they are, the more aggressive we can be up front."

Some extra sunshine

Yes, even more good news concerning Sanchez.

Sanchez did some rehab work out on the field with a member of the USC training staff Friday.

He dropped back at close to full speed, shuffled laterally, threw a football and worked with a medicine ball - all while keeping a bounce in his step, like a fighter in the first round of a prizefight.

"He's doing really well. Really, it's great," Carroll said. "The doctors couldn't be happier with what he's doing. His confidence is there. The key is to not have any setbacks."

If all goes well, Sanchez could return to practice in a limited capability sometime next week.

"I bet that sometime during the middle of next week, he'll be doing stuff," Carroll said. That's my guess from watching what's been happening."

Saturday night's for scrimmaging

The Trojans will scrimmage for the second time Saturday, this time under the lights at the Coliseum.

The scrimmage will take place at 7 p.m. - three hours later than originally scheduled.

"It's a little different being under the lights," Carroll said. "It's a little more fun for the guys."

Starters should get more reps than they did in the Trojans' first scrimmage on Tuesday, when Carroll called the offense "sluggish."

Saturday, he said, could maybe even be a turning point in the quarterback battle, with each snap meaning more and more.

And the answer might not be found in who has the better numbers.

"Everything counts," Carroll said. "It really depends on the circumstances. We're trying to take everything into account when evaluating them.

"Everyday counts now. We're getting close."

Extra points

Joe McKnight practiced, even scoring a touchdown on a short run. McKnight's fingers, which were smashed in a door Wednesday night, did appear to bother him at times, though. He caught some balls with one hand, and after taking a bump after one carry, he winced noticeably.

• Corp and Mitch Mustain both did the things they were good at Friday. Corp scrambled for a pair of scores, and Mustain looked comfortable in the pocket and rolling out. Mustain made some very nice throws while working the first-team offense.

Jeff Byers participated with the first-team offensive line for the bulk of practice, bringing energy and experience to the group. He did draw a flag for knocking Kyle Moore's helmet off during one drill.

Michael Reardon could need hip surgery, forcing Carroll to continue to shuffle things along the offensive line. Reardon's suffered from a nagging hip injury that has recently flared back up. Doctors hope to treat the hip with an injection, which Reardon has received, but surgery is definitely a possibility.

"There's a good chance he could be out for a while," Carroll said.

Damian Williams dressed, but did not take any reps in what amounted to an afternoon off. He's not injured.

Malik Jackson, Michael Morgan, Alex Parsons and Reardon were among the non-participants Friday.

David Buehler missed a 32-yard field goal from the left hash, missing the kick wide to the right.

• Two nice runs from C.J. Gable helped the No. 1 offense score a touchdown in a faux-overtime. Mustain completed a pass to Vidal Hazelton for the two-point conversion.

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