October 22, 2008

Practice Insider: Secondary solid

It's in the job description for the USC secondary. Don't let anything too crazy happen.

Patrolling the outside and the deep parts of the field, the Trojan defense does its best to keep teams from pulling off the big play.

And with tons of experience and confidence, the USC secondary has helped stabilize a defense that hasn't let an opponent score a single point in 10 quarters.

"We've counted on that from the beginning, that they'd be able to be really strong and competitive," Trojan head coach Pete Carroll said. "We thought they could be a big factor. This is the best group we've had - depth-wise as well."

A severe neck injury to Shareece Wright forced the USC coaches to shorten its rotation to three from four, but there's been no visible drop off.

A big reason for the Trojans' stability at the back has been Kevin Thomas.

Currently running with the first string as Cary Harris nurses a hamstring injury, Thomas said the experience in the back has been a huge factor for the Trojans' defensive stoutness.

"We've been pretty stable, and that's been due to the older guys on the defense," he said. "We've got a lot of seniors, and they keep us all together.

"Collectively, we've stayed focus, and we've got great leaders that do it day in and day out."

Carroll said the experience at the back of the USC defense has allowed him to count on the group for consistent playmaking.

"They are even keel. They've been playing together for a long time and know our system well," Carroll said. "They can handle a lot of stuff and adjust well. I think they feed off of one another, and they're very confident. They share that confidence as a group."

And with USC in a stretch of eight-straight games without an off week, now's the time for the veteran Trojans to continue their quest for consistent effort and performance.

"I think experience and passion for the game count more now," Thomas said. "If you love what you're doing, you never get lackadaisical. You can't get bored with it. If you want to be great, you work at it every day."

The attitude and approach has made its way down the food chain to the younger Trojans, Thomas said.

"You're seeing a lot of older guys making plays," Thomas said. "And when the younger guys see the older guys get all hyped up with all that enthusiasm, they want a piece of that too."

Busy V

Wide receiver Vidal Hazelton received full clearance from the Trojan medical staff after suffering a concussion in preparation for USC's game with Washington State.

Even though he's still playing through pain in his right ankle, Hazelton managed to be at the center of things during Wednesday's practice.

During seven-on-seven drills, Hazelton went to go block Taylor Mays after a Ronald Johnson catch. Mays, apparently, took exception to the block, and he and Hazelton exchanged words and shoves.

After the play, Hazelton caught an earful from Carroll.

"It was just a little scuffle," Hazelton said. "When the receivers catch the ball, I kind of take pride in going down the field to block. I kind of tapped him, and I guess he was sensitive so he hit me.

"I reacted, and I shouldn't have done that. Coach Carroll kind of got mad at me. The second guy always gets caught."

Hazelton also managed to catch three touchdown passes Wednesday, but the scuffle with Mays stuck out in his mind.

"It's all right; I'll get him," Hazelton said. "I didn't forget about it. I'm going to remember Taylor Mays.

"That's just football."

Extra Points

• Hazelton said he's currently in the Trojan game plan for Saturday's trip to Arizona.

"I'm going to play," he said. "I just don't know how many reps."

• Running back Joe McKnight sat out another practice Wednesday, but he said he's planning on being back Thursday.

Carroll said McKnight's ready to go if his body continues to heal.

"He's getting through all the work on the game plan stuff, and he's good with all of that," Carroll said. "We're counting on going without him, but we're preparing him to play.

"Joe plans on playing. He plans on getting better, and he's been able to do that in the past when he gets banged up."

McKnight also switched cleats to a pair that provides him with more room for his toes.

• Carroll said no decisions have been made yet regarding a stating offensive line against Arizona.

• Plenty of Trojans including Hazelton, Mark Sanchez and Tyron Smith stayed late Wednesday to get in extra practice.

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