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USC FOOTBALL

USC quarterback competition gets underway

Four candidates are solid at the first of 15 spring workouts, but no one stands out.

March 29, 2009|Gary Klein

Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart was among the hundreds of onlookers at USC's first spring workout Saturday.

And he was probably the only one who could truly relate to the four quarterbacks vying to become the Trojans' starter.

Leinart won a spring quarterback competition over three others in 2003, setting the stage for one of the most celebrated careers in college football history.

"It's kind of deja vu," Leinart said as he watched Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain, Matt Barkley and Garrett Green begin a battle that will play out over 14 more workouts.

Corp, Mustain, Barkley and Green each had his moments during the nearly three-hour workout that was conducted without pads.

None, however, stood out over the others in their initial bid to succeed Mark Sanchez as the starter.

"They were decent," cornerback Kevin Thomas said. "But, you know, I haven't seen any lasers. Not yet."

Coach Pete Carroll reiterated that he did not expect a quick decision.

"It's a subjective, long process to solve this and we'll just wait it out," Carroll said.

Carroll and new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates did not hesitate to throw Barkley into the fire. The freshman took the first snaps during the team scrimmage portion of the workout.

Barkley, who graduated early from Santa Ana Mater Dei High, said he was "having a blast out there." He completed his first pass, struggled with a few others -- "some of my throws were kind of iffy" -- but generally impressed.

"I don't think I did too bad for the first day," he said.

Corp was the first quarterback up during seven-on-seven drills and looked at ease commanding the huddle and the offense throughout the workout.

The third-year sophomore took advantage of his mobility a few times but mainly stayed within the framework of the offense.

"I did some things," he said. "I can get better. I just have to come back on Tuesday and keep improving."

Mustain, a junior, appeared more relaxed and confident than perhaps at any time since his arrival as a transfer from Arkansas in 2007.

Green also was mostly solid, though Carroll and Bates noted that the senior also would play receiver and on special teams. That would make Green a longshot to earn the starting job.

Quarterbacks and other offensive players were aided by the elimination of certain terminology in the play calls and pass protections, according to Mustain.

"There was a lot of stuff that really didn't have any meaning, that was more confusing than it was helpful, so we cut out a lot of that and really simplified a lot of things," he said. "It was mainly to help a certain group but ended up helping everyone a ton."

Bates, hired in January after three seasons on the Denver Broncos' staff, was visibly energized by finally getting onto the field and coaching quarterbacks he had watched only on film.

The pace of the workout also differed from the NFL.

"That was a fast practice, one of the fastest practices I've ever been a part of," Bates said.

Like Carroll, Bates indicated that there would be no hurry to name a starting quarterback or even determine a leader of the competition.

"Early on . . . we'll give everyone an opportunity to be No. 1 and then we'll just kind of play with the numbers [to determine] who's leading or who deserves it," he said.

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Quick hits

Carroll said All-American safety Taylor Mays would work at the free and strong positions during spring practice. Josh Pinkard is playing safety, but he also could play cornerback, where he started 11 games last season. . . . Defensive end Everson Griffen and tight end Anthony McCoy were absent because of academic issues, Carroll said. . . . Cleveland Browns Coach Eric Mangini and former USC coach John Robinson attended practice. . . . Coaches and players involved in Leinart's Urban Youth Football League attended the workout. The program was started last year to provide football and academic opportunities for inner-city youth.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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