October 16, 2008

Practice Insider: fighting off the urge

The defensive end has one singular objective. He's going to beat his man, come off the edge and smash - deliver a punishing hit to the quarterback.

It's what he's supposed to do when the opposing quarterback drops back to throw.

In recent years, though, rules have limited how the defense can hit the quarterback and other players, and the USC Trojans have been on the wrong end of more than a few roughing penalties this year.

Ex-Trojan safety Troy Polamalu made headlines this week when he said roughing penalties and fines were ruining football.

"Safety is paramount," USC defensive line coach David Watson said. "But, then again, that's why there are pads and helmets."

Before heading to Washington State, USC worked with more officials on the field during the Trojans Thursday practice.

After, defensive end Kyle Moore acknowledged he's thinking about making sure he won't draw a penalty for roughing the passer.

"You have to think about it. You grab his facemask and get the sack, and it doesn't count," Moore said. "They get a first down even with you getting a sack. It's all bad, and it doesn't work out. It's a lose-lose situation.

"You got to hit him. You just have to make sure there are no headbutts and no grabbing his facemask."

Anyone rushing the passer this season has to proceed with caution, Watson said.

"This year specifically, they're obviously very sensitive to any hits on the quarterback. They're protecting the quarterback," he said. "We have to do a better job coaching the kids up, telling them to keep their head out of the hit and to use their hands to tackle at the legs.

"In a questionable situation, you have to lay off."

And that can leave players like Moore fighting off the same kind of aggression that could land them on Sportscenter.

"Football players need to play on instincts. If you're trying to hit him, you'll hit him," Moore said. "Once you get to the quarterback, you use what he gives you, and that's how you make the tackle.

"Stuff happens. You might go head-to-head. You might grab a facemask."

Logically, the Trojan quarterbacks would support the rules aimed at protecting them, but Mitch Mustain thinks things have gone too far.

"I've seen hits on TV were flags come a little prematurely. They weren't as bad as what the penalty was." Mustain said. "It's part of the game. You get hit late sometimes. As long as its not a grotesque hit, I think it's fine.

"I think guys are a little over-protected."

Specifically, Mustain said the ban on horsecollar tackles has made it tougher for a defender to his job.

"I think the horsecollar rule is a little much. It's kind of bogus, to be quite honest. I don't like seeing it downfield," he said. "When you're chasing someone, there are so few places to get a hold of a guy.

"I think it's a stupid rule."

Staying home

Some of USC's big-time contributors just won't be on the field for the Trojans Saturday at Washington State, they won't be on the trip.

Running back Joe McKnight will not travel because of turf toe. Defensive end Everson Griffen, tackle Butch Lewis, linebacker Jordan Campbell and wide receiver Jordan Cameron won't be with the team because of illness.

Linebackers Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava practiced Thursday and will travel. Both likely will start.

"We're going to be without some guys, but we're pleased to be getting those defensive guys back," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "We'll miss Joe and Butch for sure."

Extra Points

• Carroll said USC will have its running back rotation trimmed to three, with Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Broderick Green getting the nod.

Carroll said injuries will force the Trojans to lean heavily on Gable and Johnson to carry the load.

The current plan is for the two to alternate series.

• With Lewis out, Nick Howell will slide in and likely start at right tackle. When Tyron Smith enters the game, Carroll said Charles Brown will move to the right side.

Jeff Byers status for Saturday's game is not in doubt due to his sore knee.

• The injuries to Cushing and Maiava will mean more reps for Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith. Without Griffen on the trip, defensive ends Gerald Washington and freshman Malik Jackson will get a chance to step in.

• With so many injuries, Carroll said the travel roster will look differently than it did when USC made its last trip.

Matt Hillier, Garrett Nolan, Daniel Harper, Dan Deckas and Ross Cumming will all travel to Washington State.

Vidal Hazelton didn't practice after taking a hit to his head in Wednesday's practice. Carroll said the only Hazelton would not travel is if team doctors rule him "out."

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