November 6, 2008

Practice Insider: Extra time

Look over to the Trojan benches in the second half. There's Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Patrick Turner and plenty of other big-time names.

Because of one-sided scores, the USC first-teamers have spent big chunks of time watching rather than playing, opening the door for USC's reserves to get valuable reps.

"Experience is something that you just can't fake," linebacker Malcolm Smith said.

Smith and other young players like T.J. Bryant, Marc Tyler and Broderick Green have taken advantage of the blowouts to grow as players in front of big crowds.

"It helped me to get game experience and to get a feel more for the college tempo," Bryant said. "It helped me really get my feet wet. I'm always comfortable, but now, my confidence is even higher."

USC head coach Pete Carroll said the extra reps have given USC coaches added information in evaluation, helping his younger players get better.

"The guys who get the play time are helped enormously by getting comfortable the experience. All of those opportunities, you get to teach them," Carroll said. "You're not looking at anyone else. You can specifically direct their development. That's really critical, and it's a tremendous benefit as we head down the stretch."

USC has had just two meaningful fourth quarters all season, at Oregon State and at Arizona.

With all the extra time, Smith said, he no longer feels green on the field.

"I know stuff that's going to happen and how to handle certain situations," Smith said. "Playing here in practice is not the same as playing in the Coliseum. That's an atmosphere that you can't prepare for.

"I don't feel like I'm new out there."

It'd be one thing if the young Trojans were out on the field to just run out the clock. Defensively, though, USC has had its reserves on the field trying to preserve a shutout in three of its last four games.

"It's something that's kept us going. We're not playing just in garbage time. We're out there trying to preserve the shutout and keep yards to a minimum," Smith said. "Sometimes, you can get out there and you don't feel like you're doing anything just because it's at the end of the game.

"But when you're holding a team to zero points, it puts a little extra in you."

Extra Benefits

In addition to getting the Trojan reserves extra reps, the blowouts have helped keep the starters off the field.

"The guys who play and get out of there with just a half and a series of reps, the wear and team isn't there. It usually is during this time of year," Carroll said.

Heading into Saturday's game at Cal, Shareece Wright, Allen Bradford, Kevin Ellison and Averell Spicer are all out when USC hosts Cal Saturday evening.

Carroll and the Trojans are awaiting word on Blake Ayles. Ayles will be a game time decision.

"We're very fortunate to have the health we have at this point in the season," Carroll said. "Hopefully, that can help us win."

Extra Points

• USC running back Joe McKnight looked very good during Thursday's practice at Howard Jones Field, running and cutting with great burst and little pain.

McKnight appeared to be on track to play against Washington last Saturday, but he re-aggravated his turf toe in the Trojans' final practice before facing the Huskies.

"I made it through a Thursday practice, and I feel good," McKnight said. "We'll see how I am feeling on game day. It's been hard to make it through a whole week of practice."

At the end of the day, Carroll was relieved to see his explosive, versatile running back looking 100 percent.

"I held my breath a little today," Carroll said. "It was good were able to get Joe through the day. That's a good sign for us, and we'd love to get him involved in the game plan."

• Carroll said he's not sure if Kevin Riley or Nate Longshore will start for Cal Saturday, adding that Riley, a more mobile runner, could be more difficult to defend.

Luthur Brown "isn't anywhere near ready" to return, Carroll said.

• After practice, players and staff enjoyed a catered dinner from In-N-Out Burger. The fast-food chain parked a trailer in front of Heritage Hall much to the Trojans' delight.

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