October 7, 2008

Practice Insider: Griffen gets unsent message

In Saturday's game against the Oregon Ducks, the Trojan football team had to make a number of personnel changes because of injury.

The decision to start Clay Matthews at defensive end over Everson Griffen was not one of those changes.

"I had a bad game against Oregon State," Griffen said. "Clay's been making plays all along. They give him the job because I made some mistakes."

USC head coach Pete Carroll insisted Tuesday that Griffen didn't lose his job; Matthews simply won it. The change wasn't intended to motivate Griffen - at least not on the surface.

Whatever the motives, though, Griffen came into practice Tuesday with a different approach.

"He practiced his ass off today," defensive line coach David Watson said. "That's what it's all about. I think he took it well."

Griffen said losing his starting spot has lit a fire in his belly, pushing him to perform at a higher level more consistently.

"I just have to go and practice harder, do my assignments and everything will work out fine for me," he said. "I just have to pick up my practice habits and show the coaches what I can do.

"It's hard to do it every day. You have to implant it in your head. That makes it such me easier."

Watson looked to newspaper headlines to describe the situation.

"Competition spurs everything," Watson said. "That's why you don't bailout these financial companies. They made a lot of mistakes; it's time to get somebody else in there to get the job done.

"Bottom line, you have to bring your hardhat everyday. You have to have great focus, great intensity to detail and great effort."

Griffen's behavior wasn't intentional and his attitude was not cancerous. If anything, Watson said, his sophomore defensive end just got complacent.

"I don't think it came from a bad place. It's just a matter of forgetting to be humble and have humility," Watson said. "You have a couple of successes and things are going well, and then you forget what got you there. You have to look in the mirror."

Carroll said Griffen's response on the practice field Tuesday is exactly what he wants out of his players - the ability to thrive in the face of competition.

"He's determined. He wants his play time back," Carroll said. "He was getting after it today, and that's how you do it.

"It's quite natural when you lose something that you cherish, you're going to fight for it."

Rey Day

Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga participated in close to half of the Trojans' practice, even taking (and giving) contact.

Wearing a knee brace to protect his injured right knee, Maualuga ran around the field without and visible struggle.

"Rey looked good today," Carroll said. "We gave him limited reps, but he took about half the practice and really went full speed. We're really encouraged. It's a great step up for him."

After practice, Maualuga met with the Trojan medical staff. He was not cleared to play Saturday against Arizona State, but he will be allowed to take on even more in Wednesday's practice.

"It looked to me that he could've played today," Carroll said. "He just has to get through the doctors now. It's a great sign. We're all surprised by that."

Difficult Decision

After saying during his media luncheon that Allen Bradford possibly could practice, Carroll and the medical staff decided to keep the ailing running back sidelined.

The decision could extend into the distant future.

"We made a decision to not try him," Carroll said. "Instead of going for it, we're going to hold him out and wait another week."

By not playing Bradford Saturday, he could still apply for a medical waiver giving him an extra year of eligibility. The waiver, Carroll said, factored in the decision.

"This is the time," Carroll said. "If this thing is not going away, then we need to not play him anymore. We need to keep him out and get him healed.

"The last thing we want to do is operate on him. We want to avoid that."

Bradford said he'll receive a MRI on his injured hip Friday, and after the results, he and doctors will decide how to proceed.

Extra Points

• Quarterback Mark Sanchez dressed in full pads for Tuesday's practice, but he didn't participate in team drills. He did, however, throw on the side.

"It's progressing at just the right pace," Sanchez said. "I'm trying to make it back, and I think I'll be all right."

The biggest hurdle to Sanchez playing had been swelling in his bruised left knee, but he said things look and feel much better than they did earlier in the week.

In his absence, Mitch Mustain continued to take first-team reps. Carroll called Mustain's play Tuesday "spotty."

• Fullback Stanley Havili suffered what Carroll originally called a stinger when he collided with offensive lineman Khaled Holmes. After meeting with doctors, a team spokesman said there was some additional concern about his condition.

Jeff Byers didn't practice Tuesday because of a sore knee. Carroll said he expects Byers back after the day off. Derek Simmons took first-team reps, and Nick Howell also worked at right guard.

Zack Heberer's status for Saturday's game with Arizona State looks doubtful because of turf toe.

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