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USC REPORT

Things Take Off for Byrd

August 08, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Dominique Byrd was overwhelmed at times last season by his assignments as a tight end.

Orange Bowl preparations, spring practice and playbook study helped the 6-foot-3, 255-pound sophomore grasp the concepts. After two days of training camp, Byrd appears on track to master their execution.

On Thursday, Byrd put on a show with a mix of routine and acrobatic catches and key blocks that left USC coaches excited -- and relieved.

Byrd is expected to play a much larger role this season, especially with two-year starter Alex Holmes' questionable because of lingering back pain. Holmes has not practiced and said Wednesday that there was no timetable for his return.

Byrd, therefore, could be starting when the Trojans open the season Aug. 30 at Auburn.

"He's got a chance to be a real factor," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "He's really mobile down the field, and athletic, and can make things happen."

Byrd said there is no secret to his improved play.

"I just know everything better now," said Byrd, who caught one pass last year and played on special teams. "I'm not second-guessing what I'm supposed to do. That makes a big difference."

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Quarterback Matt Leinart, the starter entering training camp, performed well for the second day in a row despite a stomach ailment.

"I've been throwing up for the last two days and I haven't eaten for a day-and-a-half," Leinart said after the morning workout. "You have to put it aside. You can't go out there and say, 'I'm sick. I can't play.' As long as I'm standing and able to throw, I'll be out there."

Quarterbacks Brandon Hance and Matt Cassel also looked sharp. Hance went in the morning and Cassel in the afternoon.

"I just need to capitalize on that and keep going on throughout the week like I did today," Cassel said.

Freshman John David Booty ended the afternoon workout with a 50-yard touchdown-pass play to 6-foot-8 tight end Gregg Guenther.

"That big old tight end went up and got it for me," Booty said. "That was nice of him."

*

Freshman free safety Darnell Bing intercepted two passes during team drills with the veterans -- snatching two tipped balls that should have been caught by receivers -- and returned them for touchdowns.

"I usually don't get picks -- I'm more of a hitter," said Bing, who is 6 feet 2, 220 pounds. "But I'll take 'em."

Bing said he is learning on the field and in his training camp dorm room, which he shares with other projected starters in the secondary -- cornerbacks Marcell Allmond and Kevin Arbet, and strong safety Jason Leach.

Carroll has been pleased with almost all aspects of the Trojans' workouts but remains concerned about special teams play.

"I haven't seen us kick the ball real well yet," he said.

Carroll said he expects sophomore punter Tom Malone and senior kicker Ryan Killeen to round into form with the help of new graduate assistant Dennis Slutak.

Mario Danelo, a freshman walk-on from San Pedro High, also is in camp as a kicker.

*

The Trojans don shoulder pads for the first time today and practice in full pads Sunday.... Offensive lineman John Drake practiced after the school received a transcript from Long Beach City College.... Freshman defensive lineman Manuel Wright, who injured his left foot on Wednesday, wore a protective boot and did not participate in drills.... Freshman running back Reggie Bush sat out much of the afternoon workout after he was hit twice in the right shoulder with a helmet.... Senior tackle Jacob Rogers sat out the last half of the morning workout because of soreness in his left foot.... Walk-on quarterback Michael McDonald is wearing No. 16, the same number worn by his father, Paul, an All-American quarterback who played in 1977-79.

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