August 18, 2008

Practice Insider: Defense plays spoiler

Things have not been easy on the USC offense for much of fall camp.

They've taken big hits, they've had to work for each score and they've been under a lot of scrutiny.

Every day.

As it so happens, Brian Cushing and the rest of the defense loves it.

"You always want to screw up the offense," Cushing said. "Right now, we're doing a really good job of getting in, disrupting them and making big plays."

Cushing and company have made camp a hellacious experience for quarterbacks Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain and Garrett Green and for the line trying to protect them.

Early in camp, injuries and positional shifting helped make things easy on the USC defense, as the unit picked apart the offensive line whenever it sent a fifth rusher.

Now, USC head coach Pete Carroll said, it's gotten better.

"They're more confident, they're more physical and they're more accurate with their calls," he said. "What's really been the issue is picking up our guys coming on the pressures, and the last few days, it's changed.

"They've seen the light."

Carroll said the speedy pass rush made it hard to evaluate the Trojan quarterbacks, as he watched his guys take sacks on a pretty regular basis.

Still, he said he's not told the defense to back off one bit.

Cushing said he doesn't plan on it.

"It's a speedy defense," Cushing said. "We have a lot of different guys coming from a lot of different angles with the ability to make plays.

"That's what we're loving right now - the guys just coming from everywhere."

It's even made a believer out of one of the offense's most out-spoken supporters - wideout Vidal Hazelton.

"They're frustrating us some. Just look at our defense," he said. "Going against them, it makes the games easier.

"They're the real deal."

Maybe the offense will get a break when it takes the field against Virginia. If so, that's great. Cushing said his group wouldn't be letting up.

"Maybe they'll have it easier down the road - but not from us," he said. "We'll keep bringing it."

And now for something completely different

The news on Mark Sanchez's rehab, surprise, continues to be good.

Monday, Sanchez did some light jogging in addition to his normal workout routine. Tuesday, Carroll said, Sanchez will throw to moving receivers for the first time since the injury to his left knee.

Hazelton said the quarterback race between Corp and Mustain is too close to call at this point, but he thinks he knows the guy most ready to lead the team.

"Mark's an older guy and he definitely knows the offense more," Hazelton said. "These guys are obviously still learning. It's obvious that they don't know everything yet. As they keep getting work, it'll start to click more each day.

"But Mark's looked good in rehab. The rumor is he could be back next week."

Extra Points

• Just one day after sitting out an entire workout while wearing a large brace on his right elbow, Joe McKnight returned to the practice field - at least briefly.

McKnight took only a few reps before suffering a cut under one of his remaining fingernails.

Carroll said the staff will have to be careful with McKnight because the finger injury could linger if it doesn't completely heal.

"He's really frustrated about it," Carroll said. "Joe's had a lot of little things. But, he's always overcome them and comes back and plays."

David Buehler got another day off, as Jordan Congdon and Joe Houston handled the kicking duties. Both missed kicks during a mock overtime period.

• With neither the first or second team offenses able to get into the end zone, Garrett Green and the No. 3's put an end to things. First Green broke off for a big scramble on third down. Then on the next play, Broderick Green busted to the outside for a nice touchdown run.

Marc Tyler twisted his left ankle during return drills Monday afternoon. Tyler said he expects to be back practicing tomorrow.

• Freshman T.J. Bryant took some time to talk a little trash after doing a great job on a physically superior receiver in Jordan Cameron.

Allen Bradford continues to look like a legit home run threat.

• Mustain threw a bad interception in the overtime, essentially putting the ball up for grabs in the end zone. Safety Marshall Jones easily picked off the pass.

• Both Brice Butler[/b] and [db]D.J. Shoemate absorbed substantial hits while making great catches on the same offensive drive. Shoemate took a shot at the goal line, bounced off and took the ball in for a score.

• Early in practice, linebacker Rey Maualuga worked out with the wide receivers.

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