March 28, 2009

Practice Insider: QB battle underway

The first day of spring practice drew plenty of fans to the sidelines of Howard Jones Field, and almost all of them wanted to get a look at the USC quarterbacks.

The premiere positional battle got under way Saturday, and USC's new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said he left the field impressed.

"They have to understand that everything they do from being on the field to being in the meeting room or studying on their own, it's competition," Bates said. "It's a tough sport that we're in. If you aren't competing, you'll get left behind."

Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain, Matt Barkley and Garrett Green split reps at quarterback Saturday, and no one did anything too spectacular, USC head coach Pete Carroll said. But that's not necessarily the point.

Carroll said Saturday was only the beginning.

"It's a very long, subjective process. We're just going to wait it out," Carroll said. "We're just going to go. We're going to keep rotating and moving them in with different groups. In time, we'll really have good evaluations. We'll watch and monitor what we're doing with them, the plays they get and the opportunities they get."

Carroll said he wants to see each of the quarterbacks in similar situations - part of the reason Barkley took the first snaps with the starting line and receivers during team drills.

"It was good to see Jeremy get Matt out there with the first group at the start of the team period so he'd have his reps right off the bat," Carroll said. "He hit his first ball, a seam route, and guys kind of got excited about that. He came right back and couldn't find the guy next time."

And though he's a freshman barely out of high school, Barkley's no stranger to USC's practice environment.

"I was having a blast out here. I've been waiting for this for so long, since my season ended. There was early lifting and training and now, we're finally here. I had a lot of fun playing with the guys. The tempo was up and the atmosphere, guys we're fired up," he said. "…I just came out like it was a regular Tuesday or Thursday practice - except for the hundreds of people on the sideline.

"I thought I did OK. I've kind of grown into things so I wasn't too nervous out there."

Barkley's first pass - a hook up with Damian Williams - was one of the day's biggest highlights.

Each quarterback showcased their skills, and Mustain said he doesn't think the competition will end anytime soon.

"I thought we all looked pretty good today," Mustain said. "This is about as good of an opportunity as any of us has had since we've been here so I expect it to go down to the end."

The order of reps varied throughout the day, though Corp primarily got the first crack. That doesn't mean anything, though.

"(Bates) told us not to look too much into reps," Corp said. "It's going to be an open competition. He's going to try all of us out in different spots."

One of the biggest challenges the quarterbacks will face is how they handle the pressure of the battle for first-team reps. Bates said he wants to see his players competing hard, but they can't dwell on the depth chart.

"You have enough stuff to think about - the play, the coverage, a concept. Hopefully, they're not thinking about the competition when they're out here practicing," he said. "I hope they're thinking about it when they're home preparing themselves for the next day, getting fired up. But once they're on the practice field, you have enough stuff to worry about where you can't worry about what the other guy is doing."

All the throws made Saturday haven't impacted things quite yet.

"We're just going to give everyone an opportunity to be first so they can be with the No. 1 offensive line, running backs and receivers," Bates said. "We'll give them all a chance, and then we'll play with the numbers and figure out who is leading and who deserves it.

"It's too soon (for a leader). We've only had one day. We have about eight more days of installation before anyone can handle the whole package of the offense."

Saturday's throws

Here's a complete breakdown of the reps each quarterback took during Saturday's workout.

Seven-on-seven drills

- Incomplete pass (nearly intercepted by Chris Galippo).
- Complete to Rhett Ellison in the seam for a big gain.
- Incomplete to Brice Butler, could be considered a drop.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson on an underneath route.
- Complete to Williams on a post, good coverage.

- Complete to Cooper Stephenson underneath.
- Complete to Jordan Cameron underneath.
- Incomplete out route, could've been pass interference.
- Incomplete to David Ausberry, draws pass interference flag.
- Complete to Marc Tyler on a check down.

- Incomplete to Butler, behind him and dropped.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson on a checkdown.
- Incomplete to D.J. Shoemate, dropped.
- Complete to Butler on sideline out.
- Complete to Ausberry on short out.

- Complete to Ausberry underneath.
- Complete to Cameron in the flat.
- Incomplete but pass interference.
- Complete to Curtis McNeal on check down.
- Complete to Brandon Carswell on out route.

11-on-11 drills

- Complete to Williams in the seam, he runs for a touchdown.
- Incomplete to Butler, too low.
- Incomplete but pass interference.

- Complete to Johnson
- Complete to Ausberry
- Sacked, but offsides

- Incomplete in good coverage
- Complete to Johnson underneath
- Incomplete to Stephenson on deep ball, misses long.

- Complete to McNeal on underneath screen.

- Incomplete, Will Harris deflection.
- Handoff to C.J. Gable.
- Complete to Cameron on out route.
- Handoff to McNeal for a loss.
- Complete to Ausberry.

- Handoff to Marc Tyler.
- Complete to McNeal in the flat.

- Incomplete.

- Handoff to Gable.
- Incomplete screen pass.

- Handoff to McNeal.
- Incomplete to Cameron, drop on low pass.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson, touchdown. Run of the day.
- Complete to Stanley Havili on play-action route to the flat.
- Sacked when he trips at the line of scrimmage.

- Complete to Havili in flat.
- Defense flagged for offsides.
- Fumbled exchange and recovers.

- Sacked.
- Gains yards on quarterback scramble.
- Complete to Havili in the flat.

- Incomplete and nearly intercepted by Drew McAllister.
- Fumbled exchange on handoff between him and Tyler.

- Complete to Butler on underneath.
- Complete to Ausberry on the sideline.

A Simple Plan

The USC quarterbacks raved about the subtle changes made in the offense since Bates was hired as the team's new quarterbacks coach.

The primary change is a simpler terminology for the offense to understand.

"For years we've wanted to adjust some of the numbering and terminology - like six or seven years," Carroll said. "We've wanted to do something about it, but we never had a transition where it made sense."

Both Corp and Mustain said the new trimmed-down terminology has made things easier to grasp.

"It was awesome. (Coach Bates) has done a lot of good stuff in these past few months, and we finally got a chance to implement them and take a look at them," Mustain said.
"For a first day, I think we looked as good as we ever had."

Extra Points

• Carroll said he loved the energy his team showed during the longest practice of the spring.

"It was a good first day. It seemed pretty typical, all in all. We got good solid work. Everyone was running around, humming around. This was really the longest practice we hold," Carroll said. "We do that to get a lot of stuff on film from the first day. We'll have a couple of days to look at it, and then we'll get into a really serious week on Tuesday."

Everson Griffen and Anthony McCoy didn't practice Saturday because of academic reasons. Carroll said he expects both back on the field Tuesday for USC's next workout. With Griffen out, Nick Perry took reps with the first-team defensive line.

• Running backs Joe McKnight and Allen Bradford did individual drills Saturday, and Carroll said he's hopeful McKnight could be back at full capacity soon.

"They're just making sure he's OK," Carroll said. "Joe can run full speed and he can do all the stuff. They just don't want to push it yet so we get a good spring out of him."

• The USC kickers struggled Saturday, with Joe Houston missing from 27 yards and the left hash (Thomas block) and 32 yards the right hash (wide right) before connecting from 37 yards with the ball spotted in the middle.

Jordan Congdon connected from 27 yards before missing from 32 and 37.

• Bates said Saturday's practice was one of the fastest he's been a part of.

"I'd be surprised if I heard he said otherwise," Carroll said.

• Carroll said Taylor Mays will work at both safety spots and Josh Pinkard could get reps at cornerback in nickel situations.

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