The full transcript of USC coach Pete Carroll's Aug. 26 news conference at Heritage Hall, courtesy USC sports information:
August 26, 2008
COACH Pete Carroll: We're really pumped up at this time. We're coming out of camp on a pretty good feeling, particularly in terms of our guys all being available to us.
I think we'll get the final word on (quarterback) Mark's (Sanchez) situation, but we came out of camp real healthy and looking forward to a tremendous challenge here going all across the country to play Virginia at their place and in a program that we've watched all throughout the off season with great respect. I love the way they play, the style that they have. The background of their football program and all with Coach Groh, it's real obvious that they have great stuff. So it will be a terrific match up for us.
We look at this as other openers in the past when we've had really big teams with big settings and all that, they have meant a lot to us if we are able to get the win. We have accomplished the fact that we've gone on the road, we've traveled, you get that opening game under your belt with your team and all of those things going into your confidence down the schedule is important. I particularly like the challenge of the matchup, but we expect it's going to be a very difficult game.
In terms of our players they have been focusing so hard on making it through camp and surviving and all that, as we turn our focus to Virginia and game preparation, they have been pumped up about it and looked forward to playing somebody else and another team of course. We are well into the preparation of it.
Today is a classic Tuesday for us, but we are a few days ahead of that because coming out of the camp you have that opportunity.
The situation I think that most people are concerned about is what's going on at quarterback. Mark practiced really well yesterday. He's had a couple good days under his belt. He feels very confident about it. We have to get through the doctors tonight but I think if we can make it from each day to day he's going to be ready to play for us. He looked great and doesn't look like there are any problems at all. His knee is still a little swollen and kind of black and blue, but he's not in any serious pain at all. He's managed very well.
In the likelihood that he cannot go, both of our quarterbacks are ready to go. They have been in the competitive setting throughout camp. There's an unusual presented by the fact that mark went down early, put these guys into an obvious competitive race to see who can win the thing in the event that mark couldn't play, and so it's really added to the sense of urgency for those guys and our preparation will benefit over the long run of it; that both guys both have to feel what it feels to run this team and they both competed very well. They are very close in the competition. And like we said, the competition will continue.
The main concern right now is their confidence in handling the system. It just takes a long time. You know, if we've watched over the years, quarterback situations, it took Mark three years and it took John David (Booty) three years, and it took Matt (Leinart) got it done a little bit sooner than that.
But it just takes quite a while to master, and it's also amplified, that fact is amplified when we see Mark come back out and we see his ability to handle the terminology and help his players around him, just the subtleties and the speed and the flow of the play calling and the alert that he makes, it just accents the other guys' ability to play well.
So it quite clear that it's a difficult challenge for the young guys but they are as ready as they can get and they are hoping they get a chance to play in helping to get a win.
The other big news we had yesterday, C.J. Gable came flying, he had a great day of practice yesterday. He was full speed and was on a mission to prove that he was full speed. He's not missing this game. It's an extraordinary recovery from a very unusual situation that happened on the practice field and we all thought he was in big, big trouble, but he just wouldn't hear of it so he's bounced right back and had a great day.
So if he can come back and show he's recovered without any problems, then we're really on course to have a good core of guys ready to play for us.
The only other guy in question is Shareece Wright of guys that we are counting on. He did not practice the full practice yesterday but feels fine and wants to go today.
So with that, it's exciting to be getting ready for the 2008 season. This is an exciting football team for us. It's a very high spirited energetic team. They have practiced beautifully throughout and have been extremely competitive. They have given us a great sense that we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish at camp, but all of that having been said it doesn't mean anything unless we play well.
So now our focus is to get our game right and play really clean, sharp football, do a really good job of handle the things that we are in control of, and that's the movements, the line of scrimmage, all of the things that we do that allows us to execute, really important and that's what we zero in on as we wrap up camp and wrap up the preparation for this game. And on we go and we're looking forward to it.
Okay, that will about do it.
Q. You see a tremendous challenge
COACH Pete Carroll: I have nothing to do with whatever the points are and all that kind of stuff and that means nothing to me. It's a big time football game. It's a championship game for us as everything is and we're giving it everything we've got. We're holding nothing back. We're not resting anybody and we're not going to get somebody ready for a couple of weeks from now. We're going for it and that's the only way we know how to do it.
I know that they are going to be revved up and the place will be jumping and those kids will be pumped up about playing us, so we'd better be ready.
Q. The other offensive lines before have had some holes, how does this situation compare to that?
COACH Pete Carroll: We've made significant improvement in the last ten days of camp. It just like the light went on for the guys and they started to work together well. We've liked the individual players at the positions and the competition with the guys that are vying for spots and play time. But they just kind of came together in terms of protections, really, is what jumped out first. We were having trouble blocking our own guys for a while and they have really cleaned things up. I don't see that we have any problem.
We are able to play probably three, five, eight, or nine guys in the rotations, which is really cool for us; that many guys who warrant play time on the offensive line right now coming out of camp.
We have got pretty good backup situations at all of the spots. With Jeff (Byers) coming back out, he's really helped us solidify the terminology and communications up there when he returned but he also gives us an additional center prospect if we should need him behind Kristofer O'Dowd and Alex Parsons. That's been a real boost to us, also, depth wise. They will continue to grow and get better and the competition will stay on the offensive line.
I said a long time ago it could wind up being competitive three or four games into the season before we find out who is going to be in the starting group for the long haul, and I say that because the young kids are so capable and they are fighting for their spot. It's going to take them a while, but yet physically, they are able to compete right now, and I'm talking about Tyron Smith, Matt Kalil, Khaled Holmes...those guys are battling.
We've moved Derek Simmons and he's done a difficult job playing at guard, and when he learns what he's doing and he has the confidence, he's going to be right in midst of play regularly as well. That whole group has really jumped up and we are going to go against a different style of defense and it will challenge us and all but if we can handle this first game and get moving in each game that we go through, each week will get better for a while here. So we are feeling a lot better about it than we did a couple of weeks ago.
Q. How many freshmen could be playing this week?
COACH Pete Carroll: I don't have that number added up here but we are looking at probably six or eight guys in the first game, anyway and I think that number could jump or almost double in the next three or four weeks.
So we have a very good class that came in, and guys that have battled and shown that they can go in there and line up with the first and second group and hold their own, and with the potential of being really good at the spot.
So that's something that's been really exciting and encouraging. You never know until you get to camp what that looks like but the entire defensive line, the four guys that came in looked like they can help us. Probably Armond Armstead and Malik Jackson have been the brightest spots there, but all four guys can play, and I mentioned the three offensive linemen, (tight end) Blake Ayles has jumped into the mix right off the bat. D.J. Shoemate's had a great camp. Both Brice Butler and Jordan Cameron have done really good things at times.
It's a really interesting group. The other kid on the defensive side was Drew McAllister who did well, too. I think all of those guys have a chance to get in the mix and get involved and want to. Uona Kaveinga as a linebacker, he's had a lot of play time and that's a lot of guys to mention going into the first game of the season. We're really pumped on those guys.
COACH Pete Carroll: Cushing will play on that spot. Sequencing, we would put one in there, but if Ray had to miss some time, then Cush looked great at spot and looked like he could be an inside linebacker for rest of the his life. Looked like a natural player playing in there, as well. That's what we would do if we had a decision to make.
Q. What do you see from the Virginia offense?
COACH Pete Carroll: We have a lot of similarities. They are a pretty classic, as I would see it, classic run and play action team. They do a lot of stuff moving the quarterback around like we do. They like to get the ball down the field. Yet they have a very good control passing game aspect of it. They do a lot of things on third down.
What they feel is using a lot of tight ends in their offense. They have two guys playing in the league now that are probably going to make it. John Philips is a good player coming up, they have chosen him as captain and he's a leader on the team and he made a lot of plays last year as well. They have been committed to extra tight ends in the game and that's a little different style than we see from some people. It's an NFL offense, is what it is, and an NFL 3 4 defense that Al brought from his years in the league.
Q. Last year you talked about defense has been good; do you want more takeaways?
COACH Pete Carroll: Yeah, I think the success of or not the success, but the heights that our defense can reach will be based on how much we can get after the football.
And it's such a big deal that we are on it constantly, and we'll all be on it if it's not happening and you guys, too, because I made such a big deal about it. It will mark the difference between being a really strong, effective defense. We are going to be a good defense anyway but how good we can be will be determined by how many times we can take the ball away.
Q. How much of that is tied into the quarterback?
COACH Pete Carroll: It's always a factor because the quarterback is the most vulnerable player...whether you knock the ball out of his hands by rushing him or by forcing him to throw the ball poorly. He's the key factor, although the running backs are going to have the ball this their hands the most so we have to get the ball away from them as well.
We are doing all of the things that we know how to do and with as much emphasis as we've ever done, because we've been not happy with the last couple of years production wise there. Last year, the fumbles were okay and we didn't get the picks that we needed to get.
This is a very productive secondary in our practices and they are experienced and all over it and hopefully they will be able to create some stuff on their end of it, as well.
Q. Considering how the sacks turned up the second half the season, is there any anything you take away from that?
COACH Pete Carroll: I think we coached a little bit better to our personnel later in the year. We asked guys to come out and be more physical in the attack stuff and that helped us. We haven't backed off from that at all. So now it's just the way we are playing.
We thought we needed to create more by calls that we made, so we did that. So we are pretty much on track that way now.
Q. With how many spread teams you play, what's it going to take to slow it down?
COACH Pete Carroll: Really what's happened from our vantage point is the option game has come back to college football. For a while, it was gone and left behind, and more passing showed up and spread passing game but the increase of the quarterback running the football, the option style of stuff that's added to the spread is what's changed the factors and it's a really good aspect of it.
Option football has always been difficult. Back in the days when the wishbone was going and the split back, they had their runs with really obvious effectiveness. Then they kind of phased out to go to the passing game and now it's back with a mixture and a style of spread offense which makes it very hard.
As we see it we become more comfortable with it, and it's still difficult, though. It's still difficult if the quarterback can run really well. That's always the factor.
Q. You get your quarterback hurt right away and other injuries early and now it looks like you're really healthy?
COACH Pete Carroll: We've been fortunate really through the off season and coming out of last year we didn't have that many major situations to deal with and those that we had, Spicer came roaring back, Josh Pinkard came back great, Kevin Thomas came back in beautiful position. So we've been very fortunate. We managed those guys well in the springtime not forcing them back too soon and we've just been fortunate and everybody for the sake of the kids, knock on wood, somewhere to we can keep that going and keep these guys able to play.
But camp, it was not because we backed off in camp because camp was very physical and very aggressive and the guys just were able to handle it. I give credit with the team that (strength and conditioning coach Chris) Carlisle and his guys in the off season seemed to really find a great rhythm with preparing the guys that came into camp in full condition. We were not having, other than a couple of the young kids that we're trying to figure out what was up, did we have to really condition anybody extra, if we were in great shape to handle the workload; and it's showed up and paid off for us, so hopefully we'll continue.
Q. From a preparation standpoint, what's the most difficult thing about facing a team that you've never been against, not just team, but facility?
COACH Pete Carroll: The time frame that they have between when they last played and when they play now is the concern, because they could do anything. They could shift gears and change a tremendous amount. I know these guys did some studying with college teams to do some certain things in the off season and we'll have to see how much that work influenced them to change.
We have to be open to more things. When you play somebody six or seven games of the year they have pretty much shown who they are and what they are all about. This is different than that.
So just as we worked on things all throughout the off season and through spring football, everybody comes out with a little bit of something different, just to try and spice up your game. So you just have to be ready to adjust. So you don't you're not able to zero in quite as much as you would as other times.
The interesting thing for me is to see, Coach Groh's team looks a lot like the Jets and the Patriots; that style that he was a part of over those years, particularly defensively. Bill Belichick has always loved the 3 4 stuff; and Al was with him for years and those guys are all in the same mentality. That's a featured part of their scheme, and so we see that very clearly related.
So I kind of feel like there's a little bit of a connection through the lineage of his coaching the last ten years or so.
Q. How many running backs will you rotate the first game?
COACH Pete Carroll: Well, pretty much all of them. We're down to six. (Laughter) Somehow, we'll find a way.
If you look at our makeup, we have two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors if you look at it so that's exactly how we would like to are have it so it's situated well for us. I love our guys. I love the way that they play. They play hard. They run with style. They run with speed. They have got finesse, they have got toughness. We have got a lot of catch ability in all of the guys. Joe McKnight has an extraordinary range of things that he can do. Stefon Johnson has proven that he's a guy that you just have a difficult time tackling. He's got great sense and instinct for running with the football.
C.J. Gable is probably the best equipped for all three phases of blocking, catching and running with his experience. And Allen Bradford has been one of the most exciting guys since all through spring football and camp, he has great speed, 230 pounds and he's a loaded tackle. The two young kids, Marc Tyler and Broderick Green, they are coming along and they are working real hard at it. They are coming.
It's a very exciting group that we feel we have a lot of flexibility with. I know you all will be concerned with how we will do this but we'll figure it out and see what happens as they play and we'll go with the guy that seems to be most effective with the plan and as the game unfolds and we are not going to worry about their concerns about how many times they get the ball.
And we are going to try to win the game and we'll go next week, as you've seen over the years, it isn't always exactly the same week in and week out. I know that's uncomfortable, but this isn't for me and I like it. That's all we really need to worry about right now.
So we are going to see four guys rotation regularly, and we'll get the young kids in when we get a chance.
Q. What will you do with Mark Sanchez that you didn't do with John David Booty
COACH Pete Carroll: Mark is different than John David. John David was an extraordinary and tremendous passer, accurate thrower and was really a pocket thrower. Even though we moved him to scope him from sitting in the pocket with our actions and play action stuff, Mark is more apt to take off and move around and be resourceful with his legs.
Yesterday in practice, he had two or three different situations where he had to duck the rush, get out, decide whether to stay in the pocket or leave and he did all of those things exactly hitting to the situation. And in that he gives us a little bit more variety of second chance opportunities that we didn't get so much from John David.
Matt Leinart had a way of kind of moving around and finding an extra shot, an extra look at the secondary and he gave you some big plays in that. Hopefully we'll get that out of Mark, as well, and both Mitch and Aaron are very similar. They both, all three guys, have a tendency to like to move and feel comfortable doing that where John was wanting to stay in the pocket and sequence and rhythm of the play call.
Mark is a little bit of a gambler. He's going to take a shot at stuff and more like Leinart and I'm hoping that he'll do it well and he'll do it in a timely fashion and he'll give us a chance to hit some of our guys down the field.
Q. Considering how many players you lost in the NFL and how many starters you've got to replace particularly on offense, this team seems very well regarded, high in the rankings and everything, is that more of a reflection of key knowledge on the media's part or more respect?
COACH Pete Carroll: I don't know. I don't know. You'd have to ask around and see what people think.
It's nice that people do give us that regard, even though we have 16 guys leaving the team or something that played a lot. You know, I don't know how that works.
But we are excited about our team. I know we're excited about our chance to do well and we've recruited players to be in featured roles and featured responsibilities and these guys are ready for it. Part of it is you hate seeing the guys leave, but then again you love the fact that the other guys get to come and step to the front and take over. That's really been our focus. Our focus has not been on what's departing but what's surfacing, what's arising out of the opportunity and it's been really fun and they have been a great group.
So I think it's probably the long standing success that we have been doing pretty good for some time that people give us credit, so that really doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean a darn thing to us.
I know everybody I was thinking about it last night coming to this thing. You guys talk so much about how this game fits into the national scene and what's going to happen with the Bowl games. It's too bad you guys just can't have fun right now, because there's a lot of fun things going on right now this week without projecting what's going to happen. I know that's part of it and all and I understand it, but we are not there. There's not us.
We would not be able to find success if we did that if we operated in that manner. We are just looking at this chance to win a game here and the chance to whip the next game and we'll see what happens the next couple months of the season and we'll see what starts to take shape with the kind of team we have.
The fact that somebody likes us off the bat, it's a little bit of a popularity contest, you know.
Q. Do you have any observation on what (UCLA head coach Rick) Neuheisel said, something like
COACH Pete Carroll: I don't know. I haven't been keeping track of what Rick's saying.
Q. The domination of Los Angeles is over.
COACH Pete Carroll: Really?
Q. It's a monopoly. The monopoly in Los Angeles is over.
COACH Pete Carroll: Are they talking about the Lakers? (Laughter).
Q. There's a picture of him with words above
COACH Pete Carroll: This is kind of like the presidential race, the guy has to say, I endorse this I don't know. (Laughter) Make him document it, whatever. No, I haven't paid much attention there.
Q. Is it over?
COACH Pete Carroll: What's that?
Q. The domination, is it over?
COACH Pete Carroll: The Olympics? I don't know.
I never knew there was domination in football, so I don't know what that's all about.
Q. You talk about the connection with (Virginia head coach) Al Groh given the background in the pros; any similarities between the way the two of you have adapted to the college game?
COACH Pete Carroll: I know he's probably coaching in the style that he's always dreamed of coaching in and that's what I'm doing. We've obviously carried tremendous amount from our past.
If you looked at the stuff that we did when I was in New England, it looks a lot similar, a lot like what we are doing right now and he looks a lot like what he did at the Jets and New England.
It's got a little flavor of the AFC East matchup here. There's a little bit of that going on. Nobody really cares, but that's kind of you know. But he's taken to it beautifully, and I know I see he's got his family coaching with him, too. Son is an offensive coordinator and all that. He came out of the Jets situation, I think they were 9 7 or something like that and he took off and left.
So he had a real clear thought that he wanted to be in college coaching and I'm sure they didn't want him to leave, you know, at the Jets, so that's unlike my situation. (Laughter).
You know, I think it suits him well. He's having fun doing it. I think you can see it in his teams. We ran into a couple of his players in the off season, and through some of the celebrations and stuff, and you know, they are very fired up about the school and the program. They are proud.
They have got a good thing going there. You can tell through how his kid was talking about it and the way he handled it and dealt it with his experience there, and such a first class manner. You have a lot of kids going on to the League and doing well and speaking well for themselves and the program. There's a lot of similarities I think in that.
I don't know, maybe something to it. I saw in the write ups that there are eight guys in the league or something, eight guys in college football that have been head coaches in the NFL, I don't know what it was. I don't know if there's a trend to did a that or if that's enough for a trend but it's a fun place to work and I think some of our guys are finding that out.
Q. How much input if any do you have in scheduling a home and home like that that got put in after you were head coach here?
COACH Pete Carroll: How much personal input? Yeah, we talk about all the options and try to work out what's best and use all of the information to figure out what we want to do.
You know, I like the way this one feels, the start to this season, the buildup, the talk, the conversation, the interest and all of that. This fits and suits us well. I'm for it.
To do what we want to do, and ultimately what everybody would be happy with the Trojans doing, we have to win every game, anyway, so we have to beat everybody we play. And so that's what we set out to do, one week at a time.
It doesn't really matter when you play them. You know, to adjust your schedule in another way where you give smaller schools a chance to play the big school, if you look at it that way, it's a benevolent thought and all that, but I don't think it suits us well. I would rather just take one big time challenge a week and go for it and go to the next one and the next one. And if we are worthy, then we do something special at the end of the year.
But I know this; this game makes us better. This game is demanding of our football team, and we need events like this. We need the circumstances of this, the interest of this game and the crowd at their stadium and the travel and all that stuff to get us ready for all of the challenges during the course of the season. This isn't something that we have to do.
This is something that we want to do and we want to take advantage of this opportunity and draw out of it everything that we can. If we are able to do that then we are stronger and better and we'll use that as we go down through the challenges in the course of the season.
Q. Where do you see their big offensive tackle?
COACH Pete Carroll: He's awesome. We recruited him in high school. He was the most perfect looking guy we saw coming out of high school. An awesome looking kid. Great athlete, good student, he was full grown about a long time ago. He might have been 300 pounds when he was in sixth grade, I don't know. Beautiful athlete, No. 1 pick all the way, exactly what guys are looking for as a pass protector at left tackle. He's a great player.
Q. Is that one of the advantages with the veteran defense is that you have guys that you can trust to make adjustments?
COACH Pete Carroll: It's an advantage any time when you have guys that have been around. We are going to pretty much do what we've got to do to play and if they basically shift gears into a different style, which they may, then we have to be ready to adjust.
But our thinking is going into this first game, is to have stuff available and we've been working on it since spring football and the spectrum of what they can probably do and hopefully will be able to take care of it.
You just try to make it through the first quarter and find out what's going on and then we'll work from there.
Q. The first hit on Mark Sanchez, has he been hit in practice at all?
COACH Pete Carroll: Matter of fact, yeah, he did. He got knocked down by a freshman yesterday, and I was pissed off. (Laughter).
And so Mark wants to get hit, so matter of fact, Mark is going to get knocked down today a couple of times so we're going to make sure that that's out of his mind and that's what we're going to be worried about.
So I got first shot, there will be minimum effect, I'm sure.