October 29, 2008

Practice Insider: McKnight looks ready

Since rushing for a career-high 143 yards against Arizona State, USC running back Joe McKnight hasn't been quite himself.

In the win, McKnight suffered turf toe, forcing him into a boot before the Trojans trip to Washington State.

After returning to practice before USC's trip to Arizona, McKnight was able to run - but it wasn't the same.

"He's a speed guy, and he couldn't cut and plant like he normally does. Those things are painful man," running backs coach Todd McNair said. "When he's hurt, he's average."

Wednesday at Howard Jones Field during USC's practice, McKnight didn't look hurt. And, he didn't look average.

"He's getting better. He was still somewhat sore, and he was a little restricted last weekend," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "He's feeling better and looking better. You can tell just by watching him with the way he's bouncing around."

McKnight showed great burst and slick moves Wednesday, breaking off big runs thanks to his trademark cuts and jukes.

After one big run, McKnight left members of the first-team Trojan defense in his shadow, McKnight broke towards the end zone with a big smile on his face.

"It gets me happy when it feels like I'm getting back to where I used to be," he said. "I just feel good, and I'm confident."

Sitting and watching for most of the last two weeks wasn't easy.

"I felt like I could've played, and I'm a football player," McKnight said. "Players need to play through pain. But sometimes, you need to be smart about some things. The week I didn't go, I was smart about it. I just didn't feel it. "

And when he began the road back, the pain kept him from performing at the high level McKnight's used to.

"I don't know. It's just an injury," he said. "But I did get down a little bit, but I didn't let it get the best of me. I just went to treatment and worked hard to get back on the field."

And with McKnight on the field, things for the USC offense certainly change.

"There are a variety of things that Joe can do that we'd love to incorporate," Carroll said. "There are some this' and that's and some plays we can do with him. It enhances our overall game."

And Saturday, it'll force Washington to take notice of McKnight when he's on the field.

"When you use a guy like we've used guys in his position in his past, there are concerns a defense has to take into account." Carroll said. "There's an aspect of it where you always have to know where he is because of what he can do."

If things continue on, McKnight will be back to normal come Saturday.

"I thin he's full speed. I don't think he has to be mindful of it anymore," Carroll said. "We're in good shape. He has to make it through tomorrow's practice, and he'll be full go."

And for McKnight, that's great news. He's ready to start devouring some defenses.

"I'm hungry. I'm going after my spots," McKnight said. "I'm going after punt returner. I'm going after running back.

"I got to eat. I got to get my spots back so I can eat."

Top reference

Carroll said offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian would be a good choice to fill any open head-coaching vacancy.

Tuesday, Sarkisian said he'd be interested in the open Washington position after the season, but he's not yet been contacted.

"When you hire a guy that's done what Steve's done, you know you're getting the offense," Carroll said. "You're getting all of the technology, all of the history, all of the potential. You're getting a guarantee of the system and all that kind of stuff. There's a lot of proof of what that can become. I think that's a sure-bet deal.

"He's been in charge of half of this team for a long time. Even though he's a young guy, he's done a tremendous amount of stuff. He's run half of the team, led the meetings, the orchestration of the plans, the deliverance of the teaching - all that stuff has been his responsibility, as well as coaching."

Extra Points

• Carroll said Nick Howell could get the start at right tackle, but a final decision won't be made until after Thursday's practice.

• Defensive tackle Averell Spicer has been ruled out of Saturday's game with an ankle injury.

Ronald Johnson made a great catch on a perfectly thrown corner fade in seven-on-seven drills, beating Cary Harris.

Drew McAllister made a great play on a deflected ball, leaping for an interception.

• Near the end of practice, Broderick Green caught a swing pass and lowered his shoulder into Chris Galippo. The crushing impact got the rest of the offense all riled up.

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