Pete Carroll just can't wait.
USC's coach had originally scheduled four days of split-squad practices to allow new players to get acclimated and evaluated, but Carroll will bring the entire team together this afternoon because the newcomers are so far advanced.
"It's clear to me that the young guys -- a bunch of young guys -- have a chance to compete," Carroll said after Friday's afternoon workout. "It's time to mix 'em and see where they fit in."
USC's incoming class is regarded by many as the nation's best. After watching and evaluating three days of practices, Carroll said the class has more depth and size than last year's highly regarded Trojan class.
"It's a stronger group top to bottom -- and then there's so many big guys," Carroll said.
Jeff Byers, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound offensive lineman from Colorado, is among the newcomers who said they were drawn to USC by Carroll's penchant for playing freshmen.
Byers, wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett and linebacker Keith Rivers are a few of the freshmen who have impressed. Safety Scott Ware, offensive lineman Taitusi Lutui and linebacker Ryan Powdrell -- all junior college transfers -- also have performed well.
"If we keep working hard, this could be one of the best classes ever," Byers said earlier this week.
With the Aug. 28 opener against Virginia Tech three weeks away, the competition for playing time begins in earnest today.
On Sunday, the Trojans practice in full pads for the first time.
Gregg Guenther, who left the football program to play basketball full-time, said he has not ruled out a return if tight end Dominique Byrd's knee injury is worse than first thought. Byrd broke his left kneecap playing basketball last week and will have an MRI exam in two weeks.
"It's not completely out of the question," Guenther said of playing football again.
Guenther, a 6-8 senior, finished last season as the starting tight end and caught 17 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He said he has not been contacted by the football coaches and would not expect to until Byrd's status was determined.
Asked if Byrd should refrain from playing basketball again, Guenther said: "He just has to be more careful because he's actually pretty good."
Recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron said he did not expect the Trojans to be affected much by new NCAA recruiting rules that were announced Thursday.... Quarterback Brandon Hance, who missed the first two days because of dehydration, practiced for the first time and said he felt fine.... Cornerback Terrell Thomas was scheduled to be examined by doctors after he landed hard on his left shoulder on the final play of practice. Thomas suffered a dislocated right shoulder during fall practice last season and redshirted after having surgery.... Carroll said offensive lineman John Drake and defensive lineman Frostee Rucker did not practice because of sore feet, defensive lineman Manuel Wright was out because of illness and Mike Williams missed practice for a second consecutive day to attend class.... Former USC offensive lineman John Michels, a first-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1996, attended practice. Michels begins medical school at USC next week.