October 31, 2007

Insider: It's up to Baker

Sam Baker made one thing clear: it's up to him.

The tackle has a partially-torn hamstring, and he admitted to feeling uncomfortable in limited work during Wednesday's practice, despite receiving an anti-inflammatory injection the previous night. He laughed when asked if doctors had advised him not to play Saturday against Oregon State.

"I think so," he said, before employing a phrase he would use repeatedly in a brief session with reporters. "But, I think it's more up to me."

Baker suffered a cracked rib in the preseason and started practicing before he had received medical approval. He wanted to see how much he could do, he said at the time.

His attitude has not changed, as he looks toward the Beavers on Saturday at the Coliseum.

"I always think I can do it," Baker said. "We'll see tomorrow. … Last week, on Tuesday, I felt like, 'Man, I'm not going to be able to do it.' But, the next day, I felt pretty good."

Baker started in the Trojans' loss to Oregon but left in the second half, clutching at the hamstring. Doctors have told him the larger part of his hamstring is torn, making him less susceptible to suffering a full tear when he returns.

Freshman Butch Lewis has played in Baker's place the past three weeks, and sophomore Charles Brown is on the way back from a high ankle sprain. Coach Pete Carroll has said Brown would compete with Lewis for time, when healthy.

"Charles battled real well today," Carroll said, after Brown worked with both the scout team and regular offense. Lewis worked only with the first team. "I'm anxious to see what (offensive line coach) Pat (Ruel) thought."

Carroll all but ruled out Baker for this week. But, in the twilight of his college career, the All-American said he feels particularly eager to return.

Doctors have "hinted" to Baker that he should sit this week out. As to whether they have broached the topic of shutting it down for the season:

"That's not going to happen either way," he said. "There's no chance of that. I think it's more up to me, right now."

Sights and sounds from Wednesday's practice

  • Tailback Stafon Johnson is on pace to carry a regular workload, for the first time since spraining his left foot at Washington, Sept. 29.

    "He seems to be back to feeling real confident," Carroll said. "He's not hobbling around any more. He's ready to play."

  • The John David Booty watch grows less dramatic by the day.

    "I feel really good," the quarterback said, after another full day of practice. "I'm placing it where I want to place it. I'm putting it on 'em, when I want to put it on 'em. I can't ask for much more than that."

    Booty missed the past three games with a broken middle finger, which he injured in the loss to Stanford.

    "We've got one more day to get in the hopper, and if he can get through tomorrow, then he'll start for us," Carroll said.

  • Freshman center Kristofer O'Dowd (knee) snapped with the scout team and played some left guard with the second-team offense during team drills.

  • Patrick Turner received some warm congratulations from Carroll after practice. Turner got past Kevin Ellison and Terrell Thomas on a deep ball and later made a diving catch in the end zone, on the final play of practice.

    The offense had its way with the defensive backs. Joe McKnight found himself wide open down the sideline for a touchdown, and Vidal Hazelton also contributed a sparkling reception.

  • Carroll said he has spoken with the Pac-10's coordinator of football officiating, Dave Cutaia, about how USC's opponents have been the least-penalized in conference play the past four seasons.

    "I said, 'See if you find this interesting,'" Carroll said. "He had no explanation either, obviously. Neither of us do. We're not pointing the finger at anyone. It's just interesting."

  • The closest thing to a Halloween costume on the field was the specialists switching jerseys. Kicker David Buehler wore long snapper Will Collins' No. 50. Collins wore punter Greg Woidneck's No. 44. Woidneck wore Buehler's No. 18.

  • Field goal report: 1 for 4

    Buehler connected from 20 but missed from 42, 47 and 52.

    Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com



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