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USC breaks camp with no reason to fold its tent

Sanchez's speedy recovery and progress by receivers, offensive line spark a more optimistic outlook a week before opener.

August 23, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

There still are some question marks, some issues that need to be addressed.

To name a few: the stability of the quarterback's left knee, the offensive line's cohesion and the receivers' ability to hold onto the ball.

But with one week to go before its season opener at Virginia, USC appears to be on the mend and primed to make a run at its third Bowl Championship Series title game in five years.

The Trojans, ranked second in the coaches' poll and third in the Associated Press media poll, finish training camp today. They begin preparations for Virginia on Monday with one of the deepest and most talented rosters in college football.

"This team is really ready to go," Coach Pete Carroll said.

Carroll's assessment is based in part on the expected return of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez to full practice Monday.

An air of uncertainty shrouded the team after Sanchez crumpled to the ground because of a dislocated kneecap on Aug. 8. But two weeks later, with Sanchez moving smoothly and throwing the ball well, it looks as if it might have been a blessing of sorts.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Corp and sophomore Mitch Mustain never would have taken as many first-team snaps, or understood the offense as well, if Sanchez had not been forced to watch practice from a golf cart.

Sanchez, too, might have benefited from sitting out, according to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

"When the season's going, midway through the year and most quarterbacks' arms are getting tired, his should still be fresh," Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian spent most of the last two weeks intensely tutoring Corp and Mustain, evaluating tailbacks, auditioning receivers and experimenting with offensive line combinations.

In the first scrimmage at the Coliseum on Aug. 12, it seemed as if defensive linemen outnumbered ballcarriers in the backfield after every snap. In Thursday's scrimmage, the offensive line appeared more cohesive but still was penalized for several false starts.

"We're getting closer, we're making progress," offensive line coach Pat Ruel said.

So, too, it appears, are the receivers.

Arkansas transfer Damian Williams, who redshirted last season, and a healthy Travon Patterson have infused a corps that includes Vidal Hazelton, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson.

"We're at another level from last year," Williams said. "I think everybody's progressed and we're going to do a lot better."

No one seems too worried about the defense.

Averell Spicer and Christian Tupou will team to replace Sedrick Ellis at nose tackle. They are surrounded by experienced linemen and backed by seasoned linebackers and defensive backs.

"If we stay healthy and get turnovers, which is starting to happen, I think we can be really good," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "We have to keep our linebackers healthy."

Rey Maualuga, in particular.

The Trojans could withstand an injury at either of the outside linebacker spots, but with Chris Galippo (back) not expected to return until after the third game and Luthur Brown also battling a back injury, the Trojans are thin in the middle behind Maualuga.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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USC SEASON OPENER

Aug. 30 at Virginia, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7

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