April 3, 2009

Practice Insider: Defensive line flexes its muscle

Undoubtedly, one of the coaching staff's goals each practice is to evaluate the quarterback competition, watching the three players throw the ball in competitive situations.

At Friday's practice at Howard Jones Field, though, Pete Carroll said he didn't get a really good look.

It turns out, it's hard to conduct a quarterback competition when the defensive line is bulleting through the offensive line into the backfield.

"It's very hard to (judge the quarterbacks) when guys are coming free," Carroll said. "It's not how you want to do it."

Led by seven from the line, the Trojan defense sacked USC quarterbacks nine times during the practice.

"It was a very good day. I'm pretty excited about it the accomplishments we made today," Everson Griffen said. "We got to the quarterback numerous times - at least nine. Everybody on the d-line got a sack today, it seemed.

"We haven't been this dominant this year. We've had practices in the past years where we dominated, but we were very dominant today. We just ate up the o-line - yum yum."

Griffen and new defensive coordinator Jethro Franklin have apparently embraced working with another, with Franklin getting Griffen to play with great intensity and a great motor.

"Everson and Jethro are hitting it off. I think Everson has clearly seen his level of play from last year, and he wants to improve on it," Carroll said. "He saw he needs to focus play after play, and he needs to utilize the speed he has. He wasn't happy about it, and we were very frank in making sure he understood why Clay Matthews played so much."

Griffen raved about Franklin's coaching style, crediting him with the line's big day.

"I just think we came out fired up because Jethro makes sure we're fired up on all cylinders," he said. "He's an upbeat coach, and he makes sure we're ready to go at all times. We came out here ready to go. He's always on our butt to be 100 percent at all times; we did that today.

"Everybody was hustling to the ball. We had DaJohn Harris hustling. We had Nick Perry hustling. I was like, 'Wow.' I like that."

Griffen said he's optimistic the line can continue to impose its will, but Carroll said he's seen things like this before.

"They had a hard time with the pressure today. All of the movement stuff kind of piled up on them. They weren't able to decipher as well as they were when the installation was going on," Carroll said. "If you remember back in camp, we were struggling like crazy with our pressures and stuff. All of sudden, we put out the fire. These guys will get it nailed. They know what they're doing."

Still, there's no denying that this defensive line has a different feel to it.

"This defensive line is playing very quick. The quickness is across the board, and it's showing up. We're not doing anything different right now," Carroll said. "It's the same basic stuff. There's a collection of a lot of good movement by these guys, and they're finding the cracks."

And for better or for worse, the line's most talented player, Griffen, will be its leader.

"He's very determined to grow up and play like a really big-time player. Jethro's been on him on every snap, and he's been very effective out here," Carroll said. "It's really encouraging, but we're just getting started.

"This is about establishing habits that last a long time."

Friday's throws

Seven-on-seven drills

Aaron Corp
- Incomplete, deflected by Chris Galippo.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson, nice throw.
- Incomplete to Curtis McNeal.
- Incomplete to Damian Williams in the corner of the end zone.
- Complete to Brice Butler, who made a one-handed catch for a touchdown.

Mitch Mustain
- Complete to Williams.
- Complete to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to Williams underneath.
- Complete to David Ausberry on sideline stop.
- Complete to Stanley Havili in the flat, run for a touchdown.

Matt Barkley
- Complete to Marc Tyler underneath.
- Complete to C.J. Gable underneath.
- Complete to Ausberry on jump ball in corner for a touchdown.
- Incomplete to Rhett Ellison, dropped.
- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson.

11-on-11 drills (Blitz period)

- Incomplete to Travon Patterson, dropped.
- Sacked by Derek Simmons.
- Complete to Brandon Carswell over the middle.
- Sacked by Griffen.
- Sacked by Josh Pinkard, great coverage.

- Sacked by Averell Spicer.
- Sacked by Nick Garratt.

- Complete to Butler, good yards after catch.
- Complete to Ronald Johnson deep into the wind.
- Complete to Ausberry.

Eleven-on-Eleven drills

- Incomplete to Havili.
- Pitch to Gable, fumble forced by Taylor Mays and recovered by Jurrell Casey.
- Scramble for short gain.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Sacked by Casey.

- Handoff to Tyler.
- Sacked by Perry.
- Sacked by Harris.
- Handoff to Tyler.
- Complete to Patterson in the flat.

- Handoff to Gable.
- Sacked by Griffen.
- Handoff to Gable.
- Complete to Patterson for short gain.
- Incomplete to Butler in the end zone.

Two-minute drill

- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to Ellison.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to Patterson.
- Incomplete, spiked.
- Scramble for first down.
- Penalty, holding.
- Incomplete to Williams; flag for pass interference in the end zone.

- Complete to Gable on screen.
- Flag for false start.
- Complete to Gable to underneath.
- Complete to Butler on stop route.
- Bad snap, false start.
- Bad snap over his head, defense recovers.

Roid rage

Carroll expressed his immense displeasure with an Internet report that surfaced Friday morning, reporting that Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews tested positive for steroids at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"That was really unfortunate that that came out. It's irresponsible. I talked to the group that does the testing for the NFL. That's really irresponsible," Carroll said. "There are no tests that say anything like that. Somebody just put it out there. As you can imagine, we had a couple of calls from NFL teams today, wondering what's up."

Carroll said he thinks the allegations will stay with the players leading up to the draft.

"Most likely through the next few weeks of this process they'll keep wondering because someone wrote something like that," he said. "These guys have never been in this situation before, and they've never tested in that direction at all. They didn't when they got tested by the NFL."

Carroll said he decided to speak out on the report, hoping to save his former players from having to address it.

"I hope these guys don't say a thing about it. They don't need to. They didn't do anything wrong," he said. "I was hoping I could do it for them, slow it down and get these guys the fair shake they deserve."

Extra Points

• Ausberry has made a strong case to be the No. 3 receiver in the Trojan offense and is embroiled in a battle with Butler for reps.

"There's time to be had, but there's not that much. Everyone is battling against each other no matter where it is," Ausberry said. "Nobody can say their position is safe, and no one can say they're not working their hardest. If they don't, they're lying."

The massive receiver said he wants to be more than just a big body on the field.

"I'm trying to be an all-around receiver. However I can get on the field, I'll take it," Ausberry said. "Whether it's catching balls or blocking, I'm going to help this team on the field somehow.

"I'm trying to make an impact every day. I've worked too hard not to."

And that's exactly what Ausberry has done through four days of spring practice.

"There's no doubt those guys are playing really well. It's great to see Brice making plays and coming through," Carroll said. "David's just playing huge. He's finally playing consistent. Every day he's had a good day.

"This is the best run of days he's had since he's been here."

D.J. Shoemate (concussion), Anthony McCoy (hamstring), Adam Goodman and Michael Reardon (shoulder) were the new additions to the injury ward Friday. None of those players participated, and Carroll said he's unsure of their status for Sunday's full pads practice.

• Stafon Johnson's MRI results showed no damage, and he was back on the field Friday.

Jordan Congdon made both his kicks, hitting on an extra point and on a 32-yard try from the right hash. Joe Houston was good from 27 yards and 37 yards, but he pushed a 34-yard try wide right during the two-minute period.

• Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates was disappointed with the offense's showing Friday.

"We have our highs and our lows. The defense came out and played with a little more energy," Bates said. "We're going to have come back on Sunday and pick it up. They definitely won today. We'll see what we're made of Sunday.

"We never want to take sacks. We have to get rid of the ball."

• USC will scrimmage at the end of practice Sunday, Carroll said. The practice, which begins at 11:30 a.m., will be open to the public.

"I'm looking forward to Sunday. I'm looking forward to a day to kind of culminate. We won't add any thing. It'll be a regular practice format, but we'll just play full speed at the end," Carroll said. "It will be scrimmage plays, but this won't be a big designed day around a scrimmage.

"We want to make sure we practice."

• Havili and Griffen got into a little bit of shoving match during 11-on-11 work.

• Williams made the grab of the day, a one-handed snag from Mustain during the nine-on-seven run drill. The two connected on a play action pass.

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