September 17, 2008

Practice Insider: Byers keys o-line growth

After the Trojans' 35-3 thrashing of Ohio State, USC head coach Pete Carroll gathered his team to show it highlights from the win.

He could've started with a Joe McKnight run, Rey Maualuga's interception return or any of Mark Sanchez's touchdown passes.

Instead, he led off the package with footage of senior guard Jeff Byers making a pair of pancake blocks on the same play.

The attention in the film room embarrassed the humble Byers.

"I'd rather that he didn't show something like that," Byers said. "I don't play for things like that. I play for my guys."

Byers' guys, the rest of the offensive line, have reaped the benefits of having him back on the line, after missing time in the summer and fall camp due to Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Without Byers at left guard, the offensive line got off to a slow start, leading observers to label the group as "struggling."

"It wasn't that we were struggling early in camp; we were growing," Byers said. "That's what I want to call it. Offensive line isn't one of those positions where you come onto the field and you're just great. It takes time to build your confidence and understand what's going on."

The process, though, took a major step forward the day Byers returned to practice.

"It happened exactly the day he came back. Things started changing," Carroll said. "It's awesome to see that one guy can have that much of an impact on a group of guys."

Freshman Tyron Smith has received the benefits perhaps more than any other Trojan - save for a rarely dirty Sanchez. In the Trojans' bye weeks, the coaching staff has lined up Smith at left tackle, purposefully giving him reps next to Byers.

"He's helped me out a lot," Smith said. "Anytime I have question, he'll help me with it. He's got the experience, and I'll go to him and ask him about anything I need."

Whether it's Smith, Kristofer O'Dowd, Butch Lewis or Charles Brown, Carroll said everyone on the line has felt Byers' presence.

"It's really obvious," Carroll said. "We haven't been the same since."

Luthur's back?

Luthur Brown's recovery from a bad back has been a slow process that's starting to pick up steam.

Brown has been a full participant in recent practices, and he said he's more ready to help USC on the field.

"When I first got back, I was tired and I wasn't mentally all there," Brown said. "Now, I feel like I'm getting back to where I need to need to be."

Still, Brown's not sure if he'll be ready when the Trojans travel to Oregon State a week from Thursday.

"I'm just taking things day-by-day," he said. "When Thursday comes and it's time to make out the travel list, if the coaches and trainers say I'm ready to play, I'll be there."

On the block

An injured ankle kept Vidal Hazelton off the practice field for most of the lead-up to the Trojans' game with Ohio State, but the bum ankle didn't stop Hazelton from helping USC win.

"The coaches got me involved in the blocking game," he said. "They didn't want me to do too much on my ankle. I was fortunate I was able to contribute to us winning the game."

Hazelton did run some routes later in the game, and he said he's confident he'll be back to his normal self as soon as the Oregon State game.

"The pain is still there. It's going to be there. It's a sprained ankle," Hazelton said. "It's only been two weeks, but it's a lot better. I can run on it fine."

Extra Points

• Carroll and the staff continued to enjoy tinkering with their two newest pieces, Curtis McNeal and Nick Perry.

Both players have continued to get looks despite their unfamiliarity with the USC system. The work has allowed the guys to get work in on film, and a chance to show the coaches their ability to make plays.

"Both of the guys will be able to help us," Carroll said. "You're just looking for little sparks."

McNeal showcased some tough running late in the practice, and Perry proved to be a deft pass rusher from the linebacker position.

Chris Galippo continued to do individual work in full pads, and could be 100 percent cleared by the time USC begins game week on Sunday. Carroll said Galippo could even play at Oregon State.

Shareece Wright declined comment on his legal situation after pleading not guilty to a felony charge of resisting a police officer at his arraignment Wednesday.

Jordan Cameron made a pair of nice plays Wednesday, getting a foot in on a sideline catch early in practice before winning a jump ball later in a competition period.

• Wright, Marc Tyler, Stanley Havili and Damian Williams did not practice Wednesday, while Kyle Moore and McKnight returned.

• Williams sported a wrap up much of his leg - something Havili did in the tape room.

"I knew people were going to ask me about it," Williams said.

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