Three months of preparation following a boost of confidence apparently make a difference.
At least, that's what USC quarterback Mark Sanchez indicated Wednesday after an impressive display of leadership and throwing accuracy during the Trojans' first training camp practice.
Coach Pete Carroll named Sanchez the starter with a few days remaining in spring practice, cementing the fourth-year junior's bid to succeed John David Booty. Much like Booty and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, Sanchez seized the opportunity and built on it during summer workouts with an eye toward training camp and the Trojans' Aug. 30 opener at Virginia.
"Going the whole summer knowing that you're going to be the guy, that feels good and you get a little more confidence as the days go on," said Sanchez, who invited receivers to his family's Orange County home during the summer, mixing in workouts with basketball games and other camaraderie-building activities.
"It's an ongoing battle and I need to keep competing and I can't get complacent. But still, it just felt good coming into [the first practice] knowing that they knew who was going to be with the first group."
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian praised Sanchez for remaining calm under pressure from a defense that is expected to be among the best in college football.
An offensive line that opened training camp as the Trojans' biggest question mark will be without starting left guard Jeff Byers for an undetermined time.
Byers, a senior, said he had been experiencing flu symptoms for several weeks and did not practice because of an enlarged spleen.
Byers, however, said the condition was improving and that he hoped to be cleared to practice soon.
"I feel like I'm letting the guys down," said Byers, who missed most of the 2005 and 2006 seasons because of injuries.
"I've watched a lot in my career. It's something I don't want to do my senior year."
Carroll said on Tuesday that he would not "rush to judgment" on decisions regarding an offensive line that must replace four starters, including first-round NFL draft pick Sam Baker and second-round pick Chilo Rachal.
With 16 offensive linemen in camp, Carroll sounded less than optimistic that the staff would be done evaluating all of the potential combinations by the time the Trojans depart for Charlottesville, Va.
"I don't think we'll be able to have all the information in," he said.
Before Wednesday's practice, however, center Kris O'Dowd grinned and said he would have to "politely disagree," with Carroll's assessment that the line could still be in flux by the opener.
"I definitely feel like we'll have the five by the end of training camp," O'Dowd said.
Receiver Brice Butler and cornerback T.J. Bryant were among the freshmen that made plays during their first college workout. . . . Running back Joe McKnight twisted his right ankle but said he hoped to practice today. . . . Linebacker Luthur Brown did not practice because of back soreness, Carroll said. . . . Former Trojans quarterback Pat O'Hara, the new coach of the Los Angeles Avengers, attended practice. . . . The Trojans practice today at 3 p.m.