November 26, 2008

Practice Insider: Ellison status unclear

Tuesday at USC's practice, a sense of optimism surrounded the field as one of the team's best players, senior safety Kevin Ellison , returned to the practice field.

Ellison took part in a sizable part of Tuesday's practice, saying he felt fine after the workout.

Wednesday, Ellison walked onto the turf at Cromwell Field and tried to go through walkthrough drills.

Something was off with the injured right knee. Ellison left practice to head to the training room, taking with him the optimism that the senior captain would be able to play in USC's final home game Saturday against Notre Dame.

"He came out and just didn't feel right. It's one of those deals we talk about, where we need to see how it is the next day," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "He didn't feel like he could push off of it or run around on it.

"I don't know what all of this means because he went back into the training room. I know he couldn't practice two days in a row."

Ellison has impressed coaches with his recovery from a torn meniscus, an injury that required surgery. Ellison hasn't played in any of USC's three games in November.

"He didn't feel right coming off yesterday's workload, which is really understandable," Carroll said. "He's so far ahead of schedule. He's pushing it on every edge."

Secondary coach Rocky Seto said he hopes Ellison can make his way onto the field Saturday for the Trojans' home finale.

"I feel so disappointed for him if he can't play," Seto said.

Still, Seto and Carroll likely won't be disappointed in a defense that hasn't suffered much form the loss of one of its most valued contributors.

Fourth-year junior Will Harris has slid into the starting lineup without so much as a hiccup.

"I don't think there's been one, but you'd need to ask the coaches," he said. "I just want to be the best player I can be this year."

Carroll said the USC defense hasn't had to make any major changes with Harris playing for Ellison - exactly what he wants to see from one of his reserves.

"It hasn't changed much. Will's played great. The confidence Kevin gives guys around him because of his experience and know-how could affect guys, but it doesn't seem to have," Carroll said. "Will's really stepped in and done a great job. He's been tough, productive and in the right spots. He's made plays for us."

Harris said he's tried to approach each day of practice all season like he's been starting, but nothing other than going through it has helped him take his game to another level.

"There were butterflies. There were the mistakes you don't want to make. But, you just need to get passed that and execute," Harris said. "It's so much experience playing with the guys I came in with. The experience has given me confidence.

"When you know, you go. That's how I'm playing."

Coincidence or not, safety Taylor Mays has also stepped up his production with Ellison out of the lineup.

"He's just playing at the peak of his confidence," Carroll said.

Still, with Ellison out, the Trojan defense does miss some intangibles, specifically Ellison's steady leadership.

Luckily for the Trojans, Carroll said, there are plenty of other veteran bodies around.

"You'd think you might miss it," Carroll said, "but it doesn't look like it."

Extra Points

• Running back Joe McKnight dropped a punt during practice and took a hit from Jordan Campbell , sending the sophomore back onto the turf.

"It was just tingling for a little bit, but I'll be fine," McKnight said. "I knew it was a stinger."

McKnight said all he could think about while he was on the ground was playing Saturday against the Fighting Irish.

"I was like 'I can't sit out this game,'" McKnight said. "From here on out, it'll have to be me breaking my leg or breaking my neck or something. I'm not sitting on the sidelines anymore."

• The Trojans practiced on Cromwell Field because the grass on Howard Jones Field was too wet after Tuesday night rain.

Blake Ayles did not practice, and Carroll said he's doubtful to play Saturday.

Armond Armstead got clearance to play Saturday but missed another practice Wednesday.

"We'll see what happens," Carroll said. "He's got to do something tomorrow."

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