October 28, 2008

Practice Insider: Thomas making plays

A lot of what happens on the field shows up in the boxscore.

Sure, there are things like putting the ball in play on a hit-and-run, setting good screens and delivering strong blocks, but for the most part, numbers tell the story.

Occasionally, players find themselves in positions to rack up good numbers while still doing the little things.

And over the past few weeks, USC cornerback Kevin Thomas has been that kind of player.

"Sometimes, cornerbacks can be kind of hard to notice," secondary coach Rocky Seto said. "A receiver could be covered so much that no balls are coming over. Sometimes, the ball comes your way, and there's no rhyme or reason for it."

Still, when it comes, you have to catch it.

Thomas knows this more than most after dropping an interception against Oregon State, with the ball ricocheting into a Beaver receiver's hands.

"I'm not still worried about that one, but at the time, it was rough," Thomas said. "I thought that ball was all mine, but then, the unthinkable happened.

"I make sure I catch them now."

Thomas has done a good job with that lately, thanks to extra time spent lounging around his place, where he tosses the ball up towards the ceiling and catches inches in front of his face, watching it into his hands the entire time.

Thomas has had interceptions in two of USC's last three games, taking one all the way back for a touchdown against Arizona State before picking off Arizona's Willie Tuitama last Saturday.

On the year, Thomas leads the team with three interceptions and is second with four break ups.

"I think I've really just been in the right spot at the right time," he said. "The coaches have been making good calls, and I'm just doing my job. Luckily, I've been in the right spot, and when I see the ball, I'm just breaking on it."

It's been quite a shift from where Thomas was at last year, sidelined after surgery on a sprained left shoulder.

"Last year, I was on the coach watching the fellas play, and now, I'm out there making big plays," he said. "I guess it's kind of night and day, huh?"

And now that he's back and locking things up on the outside, the rest of the defense can play aggressively and fearlessly.

"Defense is all about trust," Kaluka Maiava said. "And we trust Kevin."

Time to shine

USC head coach Pete Carroll said defensive tackle Averell Spicer's sprained ankle probably would keep the Trojans' reserve nose tackle out against Washington Saturday, meaning freshman Jurrell Casey's role could continue to expand.

"I've been getting a lot more run than I was before. The coaches have liked what I've done in practice," Casey said. "They're putting me in the game more often. When I get in, I know I have to make big plays so I can keep playing."

Casey's played in each of the Trojans' seven games this season, but recently, his reps have been coming at more important times in the game.

"It's way different. When you're blowing a team out, you still have to play because the coaches want to see that you can perform whenever," Casey said. "But, when it's a close game, everybody's intense. You're trying to win the game, and you have to make sure you're better than your opponent."

Carroll said Casey's trimmed down on his hefty frame, and it's improved his conditioning and quickness.

Along with Christian Tupou and Fili Moala, who could slide over and play nose tackle, the Trojans could lean heavily on Casey against the Huskies.

"Jurrell played his best game last week. He did a very good job in the game, and he continues to progress," Carroll said. "He's been in and out in tough situations the past couple of games, and we've got no problems putting him in there."

Extra Points

• USC has been held under 30 points three times this season, including last Saturday's 17-10 win over Arizona.

In the games following 30-point and under offensive performances, USC's responded by scoring 44 against Oregon and 69 points at Washington State.

"It's just very relevant that week when we haven't played well the week before. Maybe there's a little extra emphasis on preparation our something like that," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "We need to start getting into more of a groove. We can't be going on this rollercoaster like we have.

"We need to be steady for the long haul."

Vidal Hazelton missed Tuesday's practice after badly stubbing his toe. Hazelton's year has been marred with all kinds of injury issues.

"It's been very difficult to get any kind of continuity with him," Carroll said. "It's always hard (to put someone in the game plan) when a guy doesn't practice."

Everson Griffen returned to practice Tuesday.

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