April 14, 2009

Practice Insider: Pinkard has chance to shine

Without safety Will Harris on the field, things in the defensive backfield have been shaken up.

In addition to more reps for guys like Shane Horton, it's also given Taylor Mays a chance to do something he never thought would happen.

"It's a little weird. I would've never thought my freshman year that I'd be playing safety at the same time as Pink four years later," Mays said. "He looks old. We laugh about that."

Josh Pinkard, a sixth-year senior, returned to USC for a chance to play alongside Mays and to show NFL scouts and personnel people what Pete Carroll already knows - that he can do it all.

"The versatility will pay off for him, but I like Josh at corner too," Carroll said. "His evaluation from the season was one of the best we've ever had from a corner - the consistency, the playmaking and all the things he did.

"I think he can play in the NFL as a corner."

Still, Pinkard said he felt he needed another year at safety to really solidify himself as a professional.

"I'm pretty sure teams were looking at me as a safety. I came back to better myself as far as the next level and show the NFL I can play safety," he said. "I felt like the next level didn't get to see as much as they wanted to. I needed to come back for one more year, get back to safety and show them that I can also play there still."

And with Harris done for the spring because of an academic issue, the chance is there.

"It's not about Will doing what he needs to do. Guys have to be ready," Pinkard said. "It's a bad situation for him, but Coach Carroll teaches us to step up and step in and fill guys' shoes. We all have to be ready to play, and that's what needs to happen."

Still, there wasn't any guarantee that Harris would've been able to hold Pinkard off because of the extra options his presence can give Carroll and the Trojan defense.

"It's a great asset. There are opportunities to go to nickel in certain defense where you'd have to put in another corner or defensive back to match up. Josh is as good of a cover guy as we've had since we've been here," Carroll said. "It does give you freedom to not have to substitute to get you match ups you want. It also gives you the option to pressure more in some situations because you have such an excellent cover guy.

"Taylor's good too; Josh is just the best guy we've had. It opens up more options for you."

Harris isn't conceding anything though, Mays, his roommate, said.

"He's upset, obviously. He deals with things really well, and he's been positive," Mays said. "He's working out hard and trying to do everything he can right now to make the best of the situation."

Mays said Harris is being punished because of his standing in one class and that Harris' grades in his other courses are fine.

His absence has opened a door for Pinkard, though.

"He gets his chance to prove himself," Mays said. "He gets the reps, and he gets to get better right now. We'll see what happens in fall camp."

Tuesday's throws

11-on-11 team drills

Aaron Corp
- Complete to David Ausberry.
- Complete to Stanley Havili, short gain.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson, Johnson fumbles, Corp recovers.
- Incomplete to Ronald Johnson deep.
- Handoff to Curtis McNeal.

Matt Barkley
- Complete to Damian Williams.
- Fumbled snap.
- Complete to Cooper Stephenson.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Incomplete, batted down by Nick Perry.

Mitch Mustain
- Complete to Williams.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Fumbled snap.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Sacked by Armond Armstead.
- Handoff to McNeal.

- Sack Armstead.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Incomplete to Williams.
- Scramble.
- Sacked by Wes Horton.

- Sacked by W. Horton.
- Complete to Joe McKnight.
- Complete to McNeal on screen.
- Fumbled snap, bad snap.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.

- Complete to Williams, short gain.
- Complete to Anthony McCoy, nice gain.
- Complete to Brandon Carswell.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Sacked by Everson Griffen.

- Complete to McCoy underneath.
- Sacked by Christian Tupou.
- Complete to Ausberry, diving catch.
- Sacked by Pinkard.
- Incomplete to McCoy, dropped but thrown behind.

- Complete to Williams, nice gain.
- Complete to McCoy, nice gain.
- Incomplete, deflected by Shane Horton.
- Complete to Carswell.
- Incomplete to Williams, dropped.

- Handoff to Johnson.
- Complete to Carswell.
- Complete to Williams.
- Quarterback sneak.
- Complete to Williams.

- Complete to Williams.
- Complete to Ausberry.
- Handoff to McNeal.
- Complete to Williams.
- Incomplete to Brice Butler, dropped.

- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Incomplete, thrown away.
- Complete to Jordan Cameron.
- Sacked by Jurrell Casey.

- Fumble, snapped over his head.
- Pitch to McNeal.
- Incomplete to Stafon Johnson, screen.
- Complete to Rhett Ellison over the middle.
- Scramble.

- Complete to Ronald Johnson, nice gain.

11-on-11 Overtime Period


- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Complete to Havili.
- Handoff to Stafon Johnson.
- Sacked by Armstead.
- Sacked by Griffen.
- Joe Houston field goal.

- Complete to Butler after fumbled exchange.
- Incomplete to Havili, dropped.
- Incomplete to Butler, goes through his hands.
- Incomplete, thrown away.
- Complete to Butler, touchdown.

Extra Points

• Despite rolling his ankle at the start of practice, Armond Armstead had a monster day with three sacks.

The defense got to the quarterback a staggering 10 times during the workout.

"We're priding ourselves in our pass rush now with Coach Jethro Franklin," Armstead said. "He's taught us a lot of different things like how to use our different moves. I think our pass rush has improved over the spring a lot."

Armstead said the defensive line was at a disadvantage during the practice because the team wasn't wearing any pads.

"It's way harder. They can grab your jerseys and stuff," I like it way better when we have pads on. You can be more physical, and you get a more realistic look."

• The offensive line wasn't at full strength with Butch Lewis and Charles Brown out with separate groin injuries. Carroll said Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil took each rep at the tackle spots all practice.

"We didn't have any choice. That's how they had to do it and they made it through it," Carroll said. "They got beat sometimes, but for those young guys to get all those snaps, it's extraordinarily valuable to them."

Marc Tyler and C.J. Gable also were out with hip injuries suffered during Saturday's scrimmage. Carroll said Tyler's injury was minor, and that Gable underwent an MRI.

• Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates raved about Barkley's performance during the scrimmage Saturday, and said he's been surprised how quickly Barkley's grasped the system.

"I've been really impressed. For him to come out here and take over the playbook and really master it in two weeks time is really impressive. It'd be impressive for anybody," Bates said. "He's handling everything, he's coming onto the field and playing aggressive, he's anticipating throws and he's moving the team."

Bates said Barkley still has work to do when it comes to picking up on "the finer details of protections."

• Mustain took only one snap in the competitive 11-on-11 periods at the end of practice.

USC coaches insisted that the cut in reps had nothing to do with performance.

"Right now, it's wide open," Bates said. "Over the course of practice, I'm not sitting there counting reps. They all have a shot, and they're all improving every day."

• Wind and cold made for a tougher day than USC has faced in its previous eight spring practices, Carroll said.

"I thought this was a good challenge day. The wind was blowing a little bit, and it was different conditions than we've had," he said. "It made the accuracy of the ball throwing and catching off some. Everything was a little bit harder.

"It was a challenge for the offense to overcome, and they really had a solid day even though it was sloppy at some times. It wasn't as sharp as we want it to be."

• Taylor Mays said he'd be confident if Barkley were the quarterback this season - Mays' last chance to win a national title.

"I'd feel confident in him. We trust in what he can do, and we trust his ability." Mays said. "Why not play a freshman? He's noticeable because he can roll out, stop and fire the ball. That's what jumps out. I think he's just going to get better and better."

Mays, never meek in his appraisals of the USC defense, said he'd also be comfortable if USC went with a more mature choice at quarterback.

"I'd be comfortable if Coach Carroll was our starter. We're going to play defense regardless," Mays said. "Whoever plays quarterback, he'll have been bred to do it. We'll be all right. "

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