August 11, 2008

Practice Insider: Trojans work under the lights

It's really here.

Sure, the Trojan football team has been practicing since Wednesday, but it wasn't until Sunday night at Howard Jones Brian Kennedy Field that things seemed to all come together.

In full pads for the first time since the Trojan Huddle, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Taylor Mays and the rest of Trojans entertained over 1,000 fans as they worked out under the lights.

"We showed some things tonight," quarterback Mitch Mustain said. "Personally, I had a very average performance. There's a lot of small stuff we have to work on.

"As a group, though, I thought we looked great. It was an excellent experience for our young guys."

Head coach Pete Carroll got to deliver even more baptism by fire, thrusting freshman like Malik Jackson and D.J. Shoemate into some high-pressure situations.

Jackson continued to impress along the defensive line, getting into the backfield on a regular basis. Shoemate rebounded from a slow start to show real explosion in the final competition period, catching consecutive balls from Garrett Green.

"This was a big deal for our guys, particularly the new guys who've never been out here before and played full speed with us. A lot of these kids have been waiting a long time to scrimmage and play with the Trojans, and they got to do it tonight. I thought it was cool how they lived up to it and did really well."

For veterans like Stafon Johnson, Sunday was a chance to get out some pent up aggressiveness.

"I maximized my opportunities. The energy was great," Johnson said. "We've been hitting each other and tackling each other all week. This was the first time it was legal for us (to do it in full pads). We gave everyone a show.

"It felt good to just let every out."

The practice ran over two hours, with the crowd cheering on plenty of occasions.

Carroll said it was win-win.

"This was special; it was just a really nice night," Carroll said. "It's great for the guys to get under the lights. They have fun with it. But, it's also nice to have the environment and the kind of energy from the crowd.

"We'll be doing this again."

A bird, a plane and… a linebacker?

Ken Norton's crew has made it point to let the rest of the team know they can play.

"It's like coaching the Super Friends. They're like super heroes. Rey Maualuga is like Superman. Brian Cushing is Batman," Norton said. "Kaluka Maiava's like my cage fighter. He can be hanging anywhere and he'll land on his feet. Chris Galippo is like Captain America. Malcolm Smith is the Green Lantern.

"It's amazing for me to coach these superhero-type guys. I'm fortunate to be with them."

The group's been hit by injuries though.

Luthur Brown and Galippo have not practiced yet this fall due to back injuries, and Maiava has been limited thanks to a sore shoulder.

"It's really irritating. I need this camp," Maiava said. "If it's not one thing, it's another."

Maiava has been limited to work in drills and seven-on-sevens, but he's not been able to go with full contact. Still, he's finding ways to get better.

"Most of this is mental," he said. "It's knowing where you have to be, formations and all of that. Once I can hit, there shouldn't be any drop off."

While the crew might not be full healthy, Norton's making sure they're motivated. During stretching, Norton's made it his job to fire up his team.

"It comes from him being a player," Maiava said. "It's camp. No one really enjoys being here. He knows that; he's been through so many.

"It breaks the ice, pumps us up and gets us in the mood."

Sick Kicks

David Buehler's camp got even better Sunday night. After being perfect through special teams drills, Buehler put on a show during the final competition period.

Buehler hit on four straight field goals, including a 54-yard bomb to salvage a rough possession.

"He's one of the best athletes on the team at kicker - of all places," Mustain said. "Alex Tejada, who I played with in high school and at Arkansas, is like that. He's a great soccer player and a great athlete. It's nice having that. I guess now, I'm used to it."

Extra Points

Butch Lewis took first-team reps at right tackle for the first team during camp. Nick Howell moved to the second team. Charles Brown continues to have all the first-team reps at left tackle.

Aaron Corp led the first team offense to a touchdown in the competition period against the first-team defense. Corp hooked up with Patrick Turner for a 22-yard score.

Travon Patterson and David Ausberry both made great touchdown catches, with Patterson breaking free thanks to a juke move and Ausberry picking a ball up an instant before it hit the grass.

• Any doubts about Mays' speed? Mays chased down Patterson from behind on a long gain, forcing the track star out of bounds at the one.

Vidal Hazelton took his share of big hits Sunday. Kevin Ellison leveled Hazelton as he went across the middle, forcing the junior receiver to the sidelines. Later in the practice, Kevin Thomas unleashed a vicious pop on Hazelton of his own.

Hazelton, though, showed his toughness and grit, coming back to make a catch before shaking off a handful of defenders with a spin move and plenty of fancy footwork.

Mark Sanchez, Galippo, Brown, Brice Butler, Tyron Smith and Trey Henderson did not participate. Marc Tyler dressed and stretched with the team before taking off his pads. Butler was not wearing a walking boot on his injured left ankle. He had a brace on instead.

• Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had to tell Ronald Johnson to "slow down" on some of his route running.

C.J. Gable had the run of the day with a 30-yard gain. Joe McKnight had the move of the day, leaving Everson Griffen frozen after some really quick steps.

Jordan Cameron caught another jump ball along the sidelines in what's becoming almost a daily thing.

DaJohn Harris, Jurrell Casey and Armond Armstead all made plays against the pass, recording a batted ball and a pair of sacks, respectively.

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