April 16, 2009

Practice Insider: Quarterbacks handling the competition

Pick the cliché. It's a rollercoaster, a whirlwind, an up-and-down ride.

However trite way you describe the battle for the starting quarterback at USC this spring, you're probably going to being accurate.

A practice after Mitch Mustain had his reps severely cut, Mustain was right back in the mix Thursday, receiving equal opportunity.

"It (Tuesday) sucks, but whatever," Mustain said. "I got a chance to get back out here. I just hoping it will click with all of us eventually."

Mustain didn't stand out Thursday particularly, but all of the USC quarterbacks have had to learn lessons in keeping a level head through the tumultuous spring battle.

Some quarterbacks, like Mustain, try to sequester their thoughts on the matter.

"It's how you look at it. I try to focus on my day only and try to make improvements," he said. "It gets hard if you start reading everything, looking at everything and taking all of that in. I just try to stay away from it."

Aaron Corp, the third quarterback in during Thursday's practice at Howard Jones Field, said his approach is take each day as it comes.

While cliché, Corp's approach has been aided by a focus on the past days instead of the coming workouts.

"A lot of it is, up until the next day, you're looking back just to figure out what you can improve on, what mistakes you made and what you did well," he said. "Until you get out here, you're thinking about the day before that. That's helpful."

Matt Barkley's rise has probably been the most meteoric of the group, and he's always been focused on the mental aspects of the game.

"All of it is mental. Physically, we're all at the top of our games. You want to get to the point where you're not thinking about anything, when you're just reacting based on what you've practiced mentally," Barkley said. "You want to see the game and the defense before they do anything. Every play, there's more mental than physical.

"I don't think there have been too many highs or too many lows."

Even after torching the defense in consecutive practices last Thursday and Saturday, Barkley said he tried to stay calm.

"It gives you confidence, but you know a couple bad mistakes and you're back where you started," he said. "You just have to keep it even and stay focused."

Through 10 practices, USC head coach Pete Carroll said he's been pleased with how his three quarterbacks have handled the extra scrutiny that comes with competing for one most coveted positions in college football.

"They seem normal," Carroll said. "Nobody's flaring up or short-tempered or any of those kinds of things. They're very even keel. They seem to be battling.

"They understand that it's a long-haul competition and nothing to be decided in a day's time."

Thursday's throws

Seven-on-seven drills

- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson, miscommunication of route.
- Complete to Damian Williams, short gain.
- Incomplete to Curtis McNeal, dropped.
- Complete to Rhett Ellison over the middle.
- Incomplete to Steve Gatena, deflected by Josh Pinkard.

- Complete to D.J. Shoemate in the flat.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson underneath.
- Complete to Jordan Cameron underneath.
- Complete to Anthony McCoy underneath.
- Complete to Joe McKnight, short gain.

- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson, under thrown.
- Complete to McCoy down the middle, wide open, touchdown.
- Complete to Brice Butler, nice throw, nice gain.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, check down.
- Complete to Butler, short.

- Complete to Williams.
- Complete to Shoemate.

- Complete to Ellison.
- Incomplete to Travon Patterson, deflected by T.J. Bryant.

- Complete to McNeal.


- Incomplete to David Ausberry.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson.
- Complete to Butler, nice gain.

- Sacked by Taylor Mays.
- Incomplete to McCoy, thrown behind.
- Incomplete, deflected by Malik Jackson at the line.

- Complete to Ausberry, good yards after catch.
- Complete to Patterson, jukes Shane Horton, runs it in for a touchdown.
- Sacked by Jordan Campbell.
- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson.


- Complete to Garrett Green, short gain.
- Complete to Williams, screen.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Sacked by Everson Griffen.

- Complete to Williams on rollout.
- Handoff to McNeal, nice gain.
- Incomplete, deflected by Wes Horton.

- Handoff to McNeal.
- Sacked by Christian Tupou.
- Handoff to McNeal.

- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson, tackled for a loss by Jurrell Casey.
- Flag, false start.
- Joe Houston 34-yard field goal, good.

- Complete to Shoemate.
- Tripped after snap, TEAM sack.
- Incomplete, deflected at line.

- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to McCoy, rollout.
- Sacked by Griffen.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson, screen.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson, nice gain.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to McCoy, rollout.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Fumbled snap, Uona Kaveinga recovers.

- Complete to Butler, rollout, great throw.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Complete to Green.
- Incomplete, deflected at line by Jackson.
- Incomplete to Butler deep, gret throw, caught out of bounds.
- Incomplete to McNeal, tons of pressure.

Same as he ever was

Talking to T.J. Bryant is just like it was talking to him when he arrived on campus. He's cool and confident now, just like he was then.

Watching Bryant play, though, things are clearly different.

"I've always been the same person," he said. "I just had to learn, take a backseat role and learn from the older guys. I learned once I feel more confident with it, that's where confidence kicks in."

Carroll praised Bryant's impact in pass defense throughout the spring, saying Bryant is one of the team's most improved players.

"He's really been a factor. He's been active. He's a good football player with an overall sense of the game. He continues to make things happen on a regular basis," Carroll said. "After the fall, he got roughed up a little bit out here in coverage; that's not happening now. He's consistent, and he's a playmaker."

Extra Points

• Carroll felt the offense had a good day Thursday, accomplishing specific goals in specific situations.

"We're trying to get more situational football in again, trying to put the guys in positions where down-and-distances change and field position and all that stuff," he said. "In that, we're trying to pretty aggressive with the calls to make the guys have to show stuff."

• The MRI on C.J. Gable's hip revealed no damage, but the running back is still sore and likely could miss the rest of spring.

Charles Brown, Butch Lewis and Marc Tyler are all day-to-day with their injuries.

• Uona Kaveinga had a nice day, even getting reps with the first-team defense.

"He's had a great spring, and he deserves to get those shots and show where he fits in," Carroll said. "He continues to make plays, and he's been very consistent. He's very tough, and he's made a lot of improvement this spring."

• T.J. Bryant made the play of the day on defense, leaving his coverage to deflect a deep pass from Mustain intended to Patterson.

"I was just playing football," Bryant said. "I saw he was wide open, and the quarterback set up to throw. I just overlapped over the top and ran as fast as I could to get there. You run as fast as you can, and then you can make a play on the ball. I didn't look anywhere else until I got there.

"We're a swarm team. We've emphasized that a lot this year. If you're running full speed, you're usually going to be around the ball."

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