August 18, 2008

Practice Insider: QB decision looming

After a light workout Sunday night at Howard Jones Field, USC head coach Pete Carroll talked about his quarterback situation.

He mentioned the inconsistencies, the lack of experience in the USC offensive system and the lack of separation.

Neither Mitch Mustain nor Aaron Corp[db] has done enough to convince Carroll that he should be the guy while [db]Mark Sanchez rehabs his knee.

And all of that, it turns out, is just fine.

Question after question the media inquired about naming a starter, and Carroll shrugged off the concern. Time, it appears for now, is on his side.

"I'm not worried about it yet," Carroll said. "I don't have all the information in yet. Everything's still up in the air. There's no rush yet…

"I'm pretty indifferent about it. I'm not worried about it. I hope you guys aren't."

Carroll said the decision to name a starter hinges largely on the progress of Sanchez heading into the week prior to opening the year at Virginia.

Sanchez is slated to begin running on Tuesday, moving forward each day after that.

Making matters in even more difficult is the virtual tie between Corp and Mustain.

"It's not obvious to anyone who's watching," Carroll said. "This is a great time to chill out - just watch it and see what happens."

Carroll's looking for a quarterback who can lead USC into a road opener by making, smart, effective plays.

"We're really hard on them with their decision making. We're really hard on them about the ball and making good decisions," Carroll said. "A big part of this evaluation is who's ready, looks most ready, to handle the game, make good choices and give us a chance to win.

"We're not looking for our quarterback to look spectacular and carry the whole load. We never have."

Mustain flinched first Sunday, rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run. Cornerback Josh Pinkard jumped in front of the ball for an interception.

Carroll said the ball was thrown well, but Mustain should have scrambled up the field.

"Those plays can be just game wreckers," Carroll said.

Corp looked good for much of the practice, finding Damian Williams and Anthony McCoy on a pair of perfectly thrown passes.

"I (felt more comfortable)," Corp said. "It was kind of a light day today, and that kind of helped. We got some guys back, and we had some good things going on on offense today."

But, as practice closed, Mustain began making big plays - the biggest coming on a deep strike to fullback Stanley Havili.

"I thought we had a really good practice tonight. We were quick and got a lot done," Mustain said. "I thought Aaron looked sharp, and I felt pretty good about tonight too."

Even with a decision seemingly a week away, Carroll said he's proud of the way his two young quarterbacks have handled an unexpected fall competition.

"They've stepped up a tremendous amount," Carroll said. "In their focus and their energy, you can see the urgency and that they realize what's at stake.

"Since the first day, we've seen a shift, and they've kept up with it.

Ayles, Ayles

After watching the tight ends star in Sunday's scrimmage, Blake Ayles got back on the field Sunday night, catching three balls from his former teammate, Corp.

Ayles missed time after suffering an injury in camp.

"It was a concussion," Ayles said. "Then, I forgot to tell the doctors for three days. I continued to play with it, and then they pulled me off when I told them finally."

Ayles has looked good in camp, proving to be a capable receiver and blocker.

Still, he's not 100 percent comfortable in a new system.

"I'm still getting thrown right into it right now," he said. "There's a lot in the playbook I'm still trying to learn. I'm in meetings everyday. I'm really just trying to learn from the older guys right now."

Ayles hopes to be healthy and ready to help his team as soon as possible.

"I'm going to try (to start)," he said. "If not, then I'll help on special teams. It's just fun to come out here and compete everyday."

Back in action

In addition to Ayles, Tyron Smith, Alex Parsons and Jeff Byers returned to the practice field after missing time with a variety of ailments.

"It's a good feeling seeing these guys back on the practice field getting their turns and their reps," Carroll said. "We got stronger today. That's really cool, a good feeling."

Carroll said Byers has received clearance to return to practice, and the staff plans to break him in slowly.

Extra Points

• After struggling early in camp, the offensive line has taken major steps forward in the past two days, Carroll said.

"We've improved a good deal up front with the pass protection stuff, and we did way better tonight," he said. "I think guys have taken a turn. Consciously and confidence-wise, we've just executed way better. I think we're on track… We needed that to happen."

Carroll said the line held up during the Trojans' blitz period better than it had all fall.

Joe McKnight did not practice Sunday night after hyperextending his right elbow. The injury occurred during Sunday's scrimmage when McKnight tried to brace himself after taking a hit during a return. Carroll said he should be fine in a couple days, calling the injury "not a serious deal."

• After watching film from Sunday's scrimmage, Carroll said McCoy had his best blocking day all camp. Carroll called McCoy "the top guy" at the tight end position.

• Players moved out of the dorms Sunday night, forcing the team to adjust its schedule Monday morning.

• Carroll said the Trojans will take a "leg break" over the next week after two punishing weeks of fall camp.

Ronald Johnson showed he's one of the fastest players on the team, catching an intermediate route and turning on the jets, slicing through the USC defense.

• Working without pads, the Trojan running backs had a good workout Sunday night. Allen Bradford, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, vBroderick Green and [db]Marc Tyler all had nice runs.

• Aside from Pinkard's interception, Taylor Mays had the best defensive play of the day. Mays slid over to cover Jordan Cameron on a fade route, out-jumping the ex-basketball player and breaking up the pass.

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