August 6, 2008

Practice Insider: Day One Leadership

During the postseason, head coach Pete Carroll often spoke about the new faces who'd be taking on bigger roles, and with fall camp opening Wednesday the USC football team seemed to ease its way through transition.

With 10 players selected in last season's NFL Draft and a host of others lost to graduation, Carroll and his staff are witnessing a transfer in leadership.

And through day one, things on the leadership front went off without a hitch - or even a word.

And after the workout, Carroll said he didn't see any specific signs of leadership, but the attitude oozed out of everything the veteran players did.

"The energy was so good across the board, but no one was really singled out. All the guys who have been here, though, Rey Maualuga, (Brian Cushing), (Kevin Ellison), all those guys know," Carroll said. "They're doing by the way they practice. That's how they illustrate their leadership. It's not so much what they say.

"They set off us on a great tone for this camp by coming out here rearing to go."

From the first drills of the day to the final huddles, the team practiced with great tempo and energy, impressing the Trojan head coach.

"With so many guys on the field, it can be hard to focus," Carroll said. "There are so many things to see… It was just really fun.

"The attitude today was excellent."

Unlike during much of summer workouts, the offense shined throughout much of the opening practice.

Led by junior quarterback Mark Sanchez, the unit looked comfortable working against one of the nation's best defenses.

"Not too many balls hit the turf today, which is a good thing," Sanchez said. "It was a pretty efficient day for us."

Sanchez kept plenty of receivers busy, finding Patrick Turner, Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry early in seven-on-seven work. Sanchez also got the tight ends involved, connecting with Rhett Ellison on what would've likely been a touchdown strike down the middle of the field.

"It was a very good first day as far as attention to the football," Carroll said. "We've spent time on it here the past few days getting started, on how important that is, and how we want to take care of it and get after it."

When the receivers weren't making plays and the ball did find the ground, a USC defender was there to scoop and run. And when the receivers did make the catch, a Trojan defender usually was bearing down ready to exert a little physicality.

"It was an onslaught on the guy who had the football," Carroll said. "The offensive guys understand it's how we do it, and I thought the offensive guys did a fantastic job of hanging on to it for the first time out."

Crowd Pleasers

Fans gathered at Howard Jones Brian Kennedy Field, decked in Trojan cardinal and gold, ready to see some of their favorite Trojan stars make plays.

It didn't take long.

On just the second punt return of the day, Johnson dropped a nasty shuffle step in traffic to squeeze free from the cover team. The move sprung the speedy sophomore for big yards and gave the crowd plenty to cheer about.

The offense kept the crowd happy throughout seven-on-seven drills and 11-on-11 work. Turner made a diving catch along the sideline, and despite Brian Cushing's argument that the ball was bobbled, the sideline official ruled the play good.

Newcomers Brice Butler, Jordan Cameron and Blake Ayles all made plays with the first unit. Butler worked well against the sideline, Cameron excelled in the air and Ayles showed his coordination, snagging a deflected ball out of midair.

Allen Bradford broke the biggest run of the day in nine-on-seven work, but freshman Marc Tyler showcased his skill set, running hard through the middle for some nice gains.

"A lot of guys who haven't been on this practice field rally got reps with the first team," Carroll said.

Not to be outdone, the defense also made some big plays today. Early in the workout, Maualuga greeted Joe McKnight behind the line of scrimmage with a big pop.

Safety Will Harris unleashed a few big hits on Ayles, including a clothesline on a crossing route.

Damian Williams and Sanchez connected for the day's biggest gain on a skinny post. The ball traveled right at the No. 18 on Williams' white jersey, and the receiver caught the ball in stride with a wide-open path to the end zone.

Medic alert

No one left practice with any injuries Wednesday, but a handful of players came to the field banged up.

Chris Galippo and Jeff Byers came to the field, recovering from a back injury and an unspecified illness, respectively. Luthur Brown wore his cleats unlike Byers and Galippo, but he didn't participate either due to a sore back.

Byers said his illness has lingered for over a few weeks, and the doctors have not diagnosed it. His spleen is enlarged, and doctor's are holding him out of practice as a precautionary measure.

"It's frustrating," Byers said. "I've watched enough football in my day. It's really hard. I really feel like I'm letting the guys down. It's been a tough first day.

"It seems like it's taken forever."

Bad news

Carroll addressed the media concerning the guilty verdict handed down in the Maurice Simmons case.

Simmons signed as part of the 2008 recruiting class before being charged for his role in an armed robbery.

"It was most unfortunate news that we got for Maurice and his family about the decision today in the courts," Carroll said. " It's a very difficult thing for that family to deal with."

Carroll wouldn't comment on Simmons' status with program, saying the player had bigger issues to work out first.

Extra Points

• David Buehler, Joe Houston and Jordan Congdan were perfect on all their field goal attempts Wednesday, hitting from as far back as 47 yards. Buehler and Houston began the day by juggling a soccer ball.

• RoJo stayed late to take extra routes with walk-on quarterback Chris McCaffery.

• Prior to the workout, Maualuga went out of his way to give a shout out to ESPN's Shelly Smith, who was covering the workout.

• Anthony McCoy dropped three passes, including one where he was under heavy pressure. However, he ended the day with an athletic catch down the middle of the field.

• Kaluka Maiava took first-team reps at linebacker and freshman Uona Kavienga backed up Maualuga at middle linebacker.

• Clay Matthews spent most of the day working with the defensive linemen, taking second-team reps.

• Punter Greg Woidneck handled the holding duties and freshman Chris Pousson handled all the long snapping.


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