Practice leaves a good taste for Trojans

Gary Klein Los Angeles Times

After spending several days consuming holiday meals and watching other teams play in bowl games, USC players were eager to get back to practice for Thursday's Rose Bowl game against Penn State.

"All you see is that Rose Bowl commercial," quarterback Mark Sanchez said Friday. "That's pretty cool, so I'm glad it's finally here."

As a helicopter hovered low over USC's practice fields in an attempt to dry the grass from recent rains, the Trojans went through a one-hour non-contact workout on the artificial turf at the campus track stadium.

"We're shaking off a little rust from all those Christmas dinners," Sanchez said. "Guys are coming back after eating quite a bit and sitting around a little bit, but we have our legs back."

Their mind-set too, Coach Pete Carroll said.

"This is the finish time," he said. "You can just tell that everybody was pumped up in the meetings."

Since USC is playing in the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season, the Trojans are participating in the same pre-bowl events, including Friday's post-practice trip to Disneyland, a dinner Sunday at Lawry's in Beverly Hills and an evening at a comedy club.

Now that the game is finally within sight, several players said they were happy about the routine.

"I'm not bored," senior linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "I'm looking forward to everything that's going to be thrown our way. We know what to expect, so we're not overly anxious of what's going to happen next."

Sanchez also seemed to appreciate the comfort of familiarity.

"I think I've got the same [hotel] room of a couple years ago, so that's perfect for me," he said.

On the mend

Tailback Stafon Johnson returned to practice after sitting out the last workout before the break because of a kneecap injury.

Johnson had no problems running straight ahead and said that by the end of the practice week, "I'll be able to go full speed and go all the way and get my cuts back and all that stuff. It's sore, but I can play through it."

Receiver Damian Williams, who suffered a shoulder injury against UCLA on Dec. 6, practiced but doctors have not cleared him for contact. Williams, the Trojans' leading receiver, does not expect to be cleared until game time.

"You know you're going to get hit," he said. "You just have to deal with it."

Safety Kevin Ellison did not practice because of a knee injury he aggravated against UCLA. Carroll said the Trojans would prepare with Will Harris as the starter.

Fullback Stanley Havili did not attend practice because of a flight delay, Carroll said.

Curiosity seeker

Juniorcornerback Kevin Thomas, tied for the team lead with three interceptions, was among the USC players who requested a draft-round projection from the NFL.

"Just curiosity," Thomas said. "I really want to know -- not for anything in particular like me leaving this year. I'm going to come back.

"I just want to know for my personal reasons where I rank right now. . . . If you're serious about going to the NFL, which I am, it's always good to know, especially heading into your final year."

Players have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.

Bradford update

Tailback Allen Bradford took part in stretching drills and said he was ahead of schedule in his recovery from hip surgery.

"I already have full range of motion," said Bradford, who will not participate in spring practice. "It's better than before I had surgery."

Bradford had expressed frustration about his role after USC's loss to Oregon State on Sept. 25, the last game he played in before surgery.

Asked Friday if he was considering transferring, Bradford said, "I'm not thinking about transferring. I'm just worried about getting back."

Quick kicks

Junior Thomas Herring was on crutches and his left foot was in a protective boot after practice. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Herring said coaches switched him from offensive line to tight end and he hurt his Achilles' tendon. "I was running a route and I heard it pop." . . . USC's practice schedule: Today at 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30; Monday, 1:30; Tuesday, 2; Wednesday, 4:15 (closed).

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