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Preparing for battle

Some observations after an afternoon at USC practice

Posted: Tuesday December 13, 2005 2:26PM; Updated: Tuesday December 13, 2005 7:09PM
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The Trojans' defense has been much-maligned this season, but Frostee Rucker and Co. led the Pac-10 in total defense with 344 yards allowed per game.
The Trojans' defense has been much-maligned this season, but Frostee Rucker and Co. led the Pac-10 in total defense with 344 yards allowed per game.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

USC's two-hour practice last Saturday at Howard Jones Field had a futuristic feel to it. With Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart in Gotham for the Heisman ceremony, quarterbacks John David Booty and Mark Sanchez took all the snaps with the first team. Trojans head coach Pete Carroll frequently goes out of his way to point out that Booty, the redshirt sophomore who graduated a year early from high school to sign with USC, is well ahead of the true freshman Sanchez in terms of reads and understanding of the offense. For now, we'll just have to take his word for it.

Both guys looked good on Saturday. Booty may have a better idea of where he's supposed to go with the ball and may do a better job of getting through his progression, but I am here to tell you he will have his hands full fighting off the challenge from Sanchez, a 6-4, 215-pounder who is scary good. Sanchez has an inch and 20 or so pounds on Booty, and a little more on his fastball. His release is so quick, it's a blur. I found myself just now typing about what great footwork he has, then realized that I was wandering out of my depth. I'm not a scout, so I'll just put it this way: he's got very quick feet, and seems very nimble for a big guy.

They both played well and made good throws; Sanchez made a couple more than Booty, who also threw more picks. But what do I know?

More strange sights at Saturday's practice:

A big, bruising tailback with a gliding, upright, Dickerson-like carriage, punishing the Trojans' starting defense. The mystery back was none other than Darnell Bing, the starting strong safety, who averaged 12.5 yards per carry as a tailback at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High, where he played both ways. This was not just a gag to get a laugh out of the guys -- like, say, tossing a dummy dressed like a player from the roof of a nearby parking garage. Depending on who stays and who goes into next spring's NFL draft (Bush and LenDale White are both juniors and Bush could be the No. 1 pick; White could also be a first-rounder), Carroll may need Bing in the offensive backfield in '06.

"We need to recruit a big running back," Carroll said after practice, adding that such players are "hard to find. We know Darnell's got extraordinary ability, and if we needed [him], he would be an option for us next year."

The prospect of getting snaps on both sides of the ball would undoubtedly influence Bing's decision to leave early for the NFL or not. Very cagey, Pete. I see you working.

Bing's fellow defenders had trouble grasping the concept of their erstwhile ally coming through the line and lowering the boom on them. "They can't expect us to hit Darnell, man," said free safety Scott Ware, with a smile. "They're f------ with my mind."

I was in SoCal to write about the Trojans' D -- to determine which is the real USC defense: The one that gave up 42 points and 427 yards to Fresno State, or the one that took UCLA to the woodshed two weeks later. Of course, when you bring up the subject of this year's defense to Carroll, the head coach and defensive coordinator gets a bit ... defensive. "The offense has been so productive, the defense has suffered by comparison," he says. "There's been this assumption that our Achilles heel is the defense." That's off base, according to Carroll. A few rough patches aside, "we had a real nice season."