December 18, 2008

Practice Insider: Back to work

Junior quarterback Mark Sanchez said he didn't spend the last week thinking about his future, whether or not he'd return to USC for his senior season.

Instead, Sanchez thought about returning to the practice field for the first time since his Trojans defeated UCLA.

Thursday at Cromwell Field, Sanchez got that chance.

"It felt so good. I needed it," he said after the Trojans' short workout. "I was frustrated last week not being able to get on the field. I'm happy to be back after only missing a few days.

"A couple throws here and there didn't feel as perfect as I'd like, but this is only day one. We've got plenty of time."

While the Trojans practiced sparingly last weekend, the team has now begun getting ready for Penn State and the Rose Bowl, USC head coach Pete Carroll said.

"This was the first day of the preparation. It was the Monday of game week preparation for us. We'll go through each day of the week like it's game week," he said. "It's fun to get going. You could tell the guys were all fired up in the meeting rooms knowing that its time to finally play football."

The Trojans are tasked with facing one of the country's top defenses in the Nittany Lions.

Penn State ranks fifth nationally in total defense and is led by all-American defensive end Aaron Maybin.

"They only missed out on a perfect season by one point. This is a good group," Sanchez said. "They look active on defense and play smart in the secondary. They're experienced in the back and up-front they have two Big Ten first-team linemen.

"They're a stingy group."

The Trojans have faced some other tough defenses this year, namely Ohio State, Arizona and Cal - all three being in the top 25 nationally in total defense. In those three games, the Trojans have scored an average of 23 points.

"They're as consistent and tough as anyone we've played," Carroll said. "They're very similar to the Ohio State defense, and that's a great group. We'll see when it comes to game day.

"Most likely, they'll be the best we've played. They're tough. They're physical and well schemed. They have a great sense of what they're trying to do."

Report response.

Sunday, "60 Minutes" profiled Carroll, focusing on his on-field demeanor and off the field work.

Since the report aired, Carroll said he's heard from a lot of people interested in helping work towards eliminating violence in the streets of Los Angeles.

"The response has been all but overwhelming," Carroll said. "We've had an unbelievable amount of people responding to it."

And that was the plan.

"The reason I agreed to do this thing was to help us with the work we're doing," he said. "The focus and the attention it generated hopefully will be well-worth it.

"Countless people have come forward and offered to help."

Extra Points

• Wide receiver Damian Williams and safety Kevin Ellison were the two most notable players not practicing Thursday.

Williams said his right shoulder is feeling better, and he was even able to play catch for the first time Thursday.

The injury, though, has limited range of motion in the shoulder and could keep him out of practice until early next week.

• Carroll said Rocky Seto's promotion to assistant head coach (defense) would entail some extra work.

"He'll have to accept the opportunities to speak on our behalf at clinics or around the community. He'll do more of that stuff," Carroll said. "He'll play a bigger role in helping me make sure we stay on course with what we're doing."

Carroll said Seto's promotion will not affect defensive coordinator Nick Holt's responsibilities.

• The Trojans practiced on the turf at Cromwell Field because Howard Jones Field was still wet after taking some heavy rains.

"If we practiced over there, we'd tear the field up," Carroll said.

• Thursday's practice lasted less than an hour, and players did not wear pads.

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