October 6, 2008

Practice Insider: Quarterback concerns

Film sessions for the two USC quarterbacks who played in Saturday's 44-10 win over Oregon produced some unique reactions.

First, there was Mark Sanchez, seeing his left knee twist like Chubby Checker after being sacked from behind.

"It's pretty nasty," he said. "It looked gross. It's not the way my leg is supposed to bend."

Mitch Mustain, the quarterback who replaced Sanchez, got to see himself rebound from an early interception to lead the Trojan offense to a productive fourth quarter, complete with a sideline bomb to David Ausberry.

Monday, Sanchez again watched as Mustain took first-team reps, and it appears the Trojans top quarterback could miss his first start of the year against Arizona State Saturday.

"We have to prepare Mitch to play," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "That's how we have to do it; we don't have any choice."

Sanchez has been diagnosed with a bone contusion on the outside of his left knee and is day-to-day.

"My knee's been through a lot, but it's holding up strong," Sanchez said. "Both cases, the beginning of the year and now, it could've been much worse. I'm very thankful."

Sanchez, who has been a star on the No. 8 USC offense, isn't planning on missing too many reps with his most recent knee injury.

"If it's up to me, obviously (I want to start)," he said. "I think I'll have a shot, definitely. I'm trying to get back by (Tuesday).

"It's too fun not to be back."

If Sanchez is unable to go, however, USC is in a better spot than it had been in previous weeks.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said Mustain has been USC's second-best quarterback over the past two weeks, and he's confident Mustain can get the job done.

"I think (he's starting to get it)," Sarkisian said. "We need to tailor things to his strengths when he's in there and not expect him to try to do everything we're doing, but let him do the things he does well.

"He's been really good the last two weeks of practice. It showed in the game."

Mustain went 5-of-8 for 111 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a quarter's worth of work. The added reps at relatively meaningful moments helped boost his confidence.

"I think it helps a lot just to be able to go in on Monday and watch the film and have that there," Mustain said. "You get a chance to see what you look like in a game rather than just the mop-up stuff.

"Those are the kinds of time when you start to doubt yourself (in mop-up duty). It's not really for anything. You're not playing for keeps. This was different."

Carroll said the offense looked just fine with Mustain at the helm.

"Things seemed to function well when we was out there," Carroll said. "It just felt right. It was time to give him a chance at this thing."

Sanchez had to make three starts last season when John David Booty had to sit with a broken finger on his throwing hand. If he can't go Saturday, Sanchez said he'll do what he can to make things easier on Mustain.

"The same way J.D. was with me - he was so supportive and my eyes on the sidelines - that's the exact approach I have," Sanchez said. "I'll be upset if I have to watch from the sidelines, but I'll be very supportive.

"Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. I think I'll be back."

Whether it's Mustain or Sanchez under center, Carroll said the Trojan's offensive plans wouldn't be modified drastically.

"We'll have a full game plan," Carroll said. "There are some things we like to do with some guys that we don't like to do with others.

"We'll tailor it a little bit, but 90 percent of it is going to be the same."

Run Rey Run

Rey Maualuga didn't do much in Monday's light workout, but he did manage to do some straight-line running and change-of-direction drills.

Maualuga missed USC's game against Oregon with a sprained MCL in his right knee.

"It's a little hard to not be out there practicing and being with the team," he said. "But, I'm running around, showing the coaches what I can do, not babying it.

"This is the longest I've been out. It sucks."

Carroll said Maualuga looks good and the lack of swelling in the knee is promising. However, the Trojans won't know until midweek whether they'll have Maualuga back.

"He looked pretty good running around. He's feeling pretty good. He did a bunch of change-of-direction drills," Maualuga said. "The fortunate thing is that it's not swollen. He doesn't have any restriction in his joints.

"It's just a matter of how stable he is."

Extra Points

Joe McKnight dropped a pair of punts Monday, and it appears that Stafon Johnson could be the Trojans' return man come Saturday.

With touches at a premium in a crowded backfield, he'd relish the chance to return punts.

"I love it. Anybody should love it," Johnson said. "You get another opportunity to show what you can do. They haven't really said anything to me. I just have to stay ready and be ready to catch the ball."

Allen Bradford didn't practice due to a tear in his hip's labrum. Bradford's been dealing with the pain since fall camp, and last week, it became unbearable.

"It's just wearing down. They think if I rehab, I'll be back," Bradford said. "I've talked to them about surgery and about the guys who have had the surgery, and they say it's tough to come back from."

Carroll said Bradford's injury had no bearing in the junior running back not receiving a carry in USC's loss at Oregon State.

• Sanchez said he's confused why a horse-collar tackle cannot be called if it's performed on a quarterback in the pocket or a running back in the tackle box.

"You'd think it'd be a penalty no matter what," Sanchez said. "It's like running a red light. You can't do it here, but you can there?"

• Linebacker Michael Morgan didn't practice Monday after suffering a concussion against the Ducks Saturday. Morgan said he's feeling better, but he's still suffering from some headaches and light sensitivity.

If Morgan is unable to play, the Trojans could look to Luthur Brown, who appears ready to receive clearance from the USC medical staff Tuesday.


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