August 22, 2008

Practice Insider: Sanchez ready to take big step

The words used to describe Mark Sanchez's recovery from his left knee injury have been positive. Words like encouragement and progression have been sprinkled in Pete Carroll's descriptions of Sanchez over the past week.

Friday, the words gave way to action.

Sanchez worked in one-on-one, seven-on-seven and with a full scout team defense. Since his injury, it was the most work Sanchez has gotten.

"I feel good," he said. "It just feels so good to be back that it takes away from the pain."

Sanchez said he thinks he'll be cleared to practice in a full capacity by Monday, and he expects to experience discomfort as his rehabilitation moves forward.

"It's going to be uncomfortable," Sanchez said. "It's not supposed to feel great right away. You've got to be able to play hurt, you know."

Sanchez's attitude and his recovery could solve the Trojans' quarterback problem, as Carroll said he expects to have his decision made for him.

Unless there's some sort of unforeseen problem, Carroll said Sanchez should be ready to lead USC in its season opener.

"I would like to see that happen," Carroll said. "I don't see anything that's going to keep him from doing it, really, unless he has a setback."

As he worked with the first unit as the team installed the first stages of its game plan for Virginia, Sanchez looked sharp on the short, timing routes and showed great touch on some perfectly thrown deep balls.

After one pass, Sanchez jumped up to celebrate with left tackle Charles Brown, and Brown patted him on his helmet - a gesture saying it's good to have him back.

"I was back to my normal self," Sanchez said. "I needed to be. It can be frustrating up here (in my head) more so than in my body."

Carroll liked seeing it.

"I want him to get back to clearly thinking and freely playing," he said. "I don't want him playing and thinking about it. I want that out of his head."

While the brace on his knee might serve as a reminder, Carroll hopes a week's worth of preparing for Virginia will have Sanchez's mind totally right.

"He has been a guy who immerses himself in what he's doing, I can't imagine that when he's playing he's going to be concerned about any of that stuff," Carroll said. "I'd like to see him feel really comfortable and forget that it's there as much as possible during the week in hopes of preparing him for that."

Oh captain, my captain

The team voted on its captains for the upcoming season, electing three seniors and a junior.

Linebacker Brian Cushing, safety Kevin Ellison, offensive lineman Jeff Byers and Sanchez all received the honor.

"Being captain at USC is a big deal," Carroll said.

Sanchez said all the attention paid to him by outside sources doesn't come close to the satisfaction he felt from being recognized by his teammates.

"There's rankings for teams and there are magazines - the Sports Illustrated thing was a tremendous honor," Sanchez said. "When your team elects you and appoints you, it means more than any other accolade.

"It's so important to me to mean something to this team."

Carroll addressed each of the choices.

On Byers: "He's a guy who's been through a lot of stuff here- started five or six games as a freshman, has had some injuries and all, and has worked his way through his career to the point where these guys recognize him as a captain on this team. He's graduated already, is working on his master's degree. He's just a fantastic, fantastic kid in the program."

On Sanchez: "Our guys make a statement there with what they feel about Mark and about his ability to lead us and be a pivotal player in our program. It's really cool that they pick him as a junior. This did happen before with John David a couple years back. Guys recognize who their guy is."

On Ellison: "He's a guy who has been exactly the epitome of what we hope a Trojan football player and student-athlete would be, and that's Kevin Ellison. He's been a fantastic part of this team. And the stuff you guys wouldn't know about, his work ethic and his desire to do everything he possibly can to be a great asset to this team in all ways, on and off the field."

On Cushing: Then just the hardest-working, toughest guy in the program, also gets recognized.

Extra Points

Fili Moala and Cary Harris practiced with the team Friday, as the Trojans worked without pads.

"I couldn't handle sitting around anymore," Moala said.

David Ausberry, C.J. Gable and Shareece Wright were among those who didn't participate.

• The team spent a major chunk of time working on special teams plays like squib and onside kicks during Friday's light practice.

Jordan Campbell continues to impress with his speed, blitzing off the edge for a sack.

• The team concludes fall camp with an 11 a.m. practice Saturday.

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