Comments From Pete Carroll At Start Of Practice Media Conference

Aug. 11, 2002


We're pumped up about getting ready to go to camp. It's been a long process getting to this second season and we've gone through a full cycle. It feels like we're positioned to have high expectations and play good football. We're obviously faced with challenges in the schedule that call for us to start fast. So the conditioning we've achieved this summer and the way we hit camp flying and getting ready is really critical for us to get off to a start that can give us respect in the beginning of the season.

There are a number of areas on the team that I'm looking forward to seeing how they pan out. The running back spot is something that is so critical to the success of our team. We've got a really competitive environment there. It'll be fun to watch how that unfolds. The competitive spot on defense is the corner spot. After seeing our younger players in the freshman camp, we have some high hopes from the guys in that position. So, with high standards and big expectations, we start the season Monday on the practice field.

It's hard to talk about this team without acknowledging the start of the season. The opening game against Auburn on Monday Night Football is about as exciting a matchup as we could hope for. It's a national viewing audience. Our players are jacked up about it. It has our attention. It's fun for me to be playing on the Monday Night stage. All of that is part of the excitement we start the season with.

The guys that light me are the seniors. Carson Palmer is so pumped up about this season. So are guys like Troy Polamalu and Mike Pollard. These are guys you look toward for senior leadership to give you a chance to have a good football team and a big year. The running backs are three seniors. All of those guys are guys who can set the standard. Whoever emerges as the top guy or how we play them has yet to be determined. But there's leadership in that group as well. So we have the elements you need to construct a great team. Now we've got to go to work and find out what we're all about. What we did yesterday and what we did before has nothing to do with what's going to happen now. Camp is now. We need to have a tremendous effort and focus. We need to grow and learn and get to the point where we can really execute as a great football team if we're going to have a great season. If we get off to a start that we're proud of, we're going to be recognized as a big time team in the country. The schedule allows us to do that. The other side of the schedule is that by the time we get to Oregon State and the Pac-10 begins, we'll be very well prepared for physical football. It'll give us a great lead in to taking a shot at where we stand in the Pac-10. We'll need our senior leadership to handle those big games and for them to play well. If that happens, then we'll get off to a great start.

One of the questions that comes up so much is, 'What do you think of Carson Palmer's chances of having a big year?' Well, Carson is finally a senior. He's finally in that position where players are when they make all their notoriety. He's been a noticed player since his fast start as a freshman. Now he has the opportunity to bank on all those experiences and wisdom he's gained over the years. He's a great worker, he's prepared himself perfectly to get ready for this season. If we have a good team and play the type of football we think we're capable of, then I think Carson will be recognized as one of the best players in America. Carson is poised and ready to do that. A key element of that will be the play of Justin Fargas and Sultan McCullough and Malaefou MacKenzie at the running back spot. If they are big factors, it'll balance out our attack and make it very difficult to deal with because we've got some firepower in our receivers and we've got a tight end who can catch the ball and we have experienced linemen. If that comes together where we have a running game, then Carson will be a huge factor. I'm really looking forward to having him blossom and flourish into the kind of player who has come around through the expectations that everyone has had for him.

Defensively, we have some questions at the cornerback spot. We have to do a nice job in camp developing that. We're real strong up front. We'll get senior leadership from Bernard Riley. If he's back and playing at his top game, that will be real important to us. Even if not, Shaun Cody, Kenechi Udeze, Mike Patterson and an improved Omar Nazel, who looks great, give us a great front that could be real strong for us. Mike Pollard, Matt Grootegoed and Melvin Simmons could be the linebackers who do the playing. That's a good front seven. Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off defensively.

In the special teams, we have a new punter in freshman Tom Malone. In the spring, he just pounded the football. The pressure of Monday Night will check him out. He's got to get started out well. He gives us the chance to have a real weapon in the punting game. We brought in a new kickoff guy, Ryan Killeen. He should give us the kind of kickoffs that will force teams to back up and give us great field position. We were unable to do that last year. With leaders in the kicking game like Kevin Arbet and Troy Polamalu and Darrell Rideaux, we can be a real strength there. We improved a great deal there but yet we can be much better. All those things can make us a really good football team if we can bring them about. A lot of areas have questions, but our expectations are high that we can pull it off. The start of camp calls for us to get going with our team. Boy, are we ready to go. Our spirits are high right now. I hope we can maintain that.

We have a couple new players. Travis Tofi is a defensive lineman from American Samoa and was very active in our camp. Another is a transfer from Tustin High and Colorado State, Frostee Rucker, who'll have to sit out this year. He's a very good prospect for the future.

Also, we have a couple players who are injured. Joe McGuire had summer surgery to repair a shoulder and will miss the season. A.J. Single will have shoulder surgery next week and will miss the season. Brandon Hance had off-season shoulder surgery that'll slow him down early in camp, but he'll be back in about a month to take over as our service team quarterback and then he'll gain his eligibility next year after transferring from Purdue.

Matt Grootegoed didn't participate in spring football but ran well in the summer after breaking his leg at Cal. We'll see how well he comes back. We have really high expectations for him. He's a tremendous player. We'll take good care of him in camp. It sounds like he's at full speed now. Marcell Allmond had a calf injury in the summer, then was hit by a car two days ago. He's running around and looking okay, but he took on that Ford Focus and took some pounding on his shoulder. Other than that, we're in good shape and really healthy and looking forward to a great camp.

We have an offensive line coming back just about intact. We have experience, but it's still a young group with only one senior in Zach Wilson. Hopefully, he'll give us the leadership we need. It's a very competitive group now with our young kids. After looking at them these first couple days, they're going to compete and push guys. That's what I really hoped would happen with our recruiting class. But Jacob Rogers, Lenny Vandermade and Norm Katnik all played quite a bit for us. We expect they'll continue to develop, but they're stronger and bigger and faster than they were. So we should be much improved there. I think the biggest element to our improvement there will be the running backs. They'll make our line better than a year ago when we were struggling in the run game. I'm really excited about the young kids. Winston Justice, Fred Matua, Kyle Williams, Kurt Katnik and Chris Doyle all came out looking like they can make some noise for us. With these five freshmen linemen, we're excited about the fact that we have a solid young group with a lot of fire in them. They may make some noise about playing time. They'll have to show that they understand the schemes and the calls. Physically, they can help us. Whether they can make the transition and give us the confidence they can make the calls, that's the challenge for them. I'm anxious to see what happens in camp. It's clear the competition is on and that's really good for the them.

The only unfortunate thing about the backup quarterback position is we don't know who's ahead. So we'll have to split time with Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel. They're in a dead heat right now. That hurts us a little, because we'll have to share time with them and not feature a second guy and get him ready. Hopefully, that'll sort itself out. It's going to hamper us a bit early. If we can't tell, we'll go by a gut feel come game time. It's a good competitive spot. Billy Hart will make a run too. He got hurt in the middle of spring, but he's done some good things. But he'll have to start back to get in the mix with those guys.

I feel much more comfortable this year with the knowing the competition and what to expect. In the NFL, you play the same coaches and players and schemes year in and year out. That was always an advantage for me. Last year was like the first go around for me. I'm hoping I can help my players out more with the schemes and strategies and the way we'll approach things because we have a little more familiarity. Of course, the opponents know us better, too, but I'm feeling much more comfortable this year.

It would be ideal to get our backup quarterbacks to play in every game, so if we had to call on them, they'd have some playing time under their belt. I don't know that we'll be able to get that done. We'll just have to go with it and see how it feels. That's the best thing we could do. But it's difficult to do and even more if you have an even running at the number two spot. Then it's hard to get both guys in. We'll just have to see how it goes.

I don't think it's fair to say Carson Palmer has had a disappointing career. One guy is not the whole show. It's been labeled he's the whole USC program. He's not. He's the quarterback. In a season when you have a bunch of kicks blocked and a bunch of turnovers, it's pretty hard for anybody to be a great football player. A year ago, we were so out of balance with our running game, I though Carson did a nice job and handled it well. He has extraordinary numbers. He has a chance to be USC's all-time quarterback stat-wise as well as in the conference. If he has just the same year numbers-wise as he had last year, he'll beat all those records. Those aren't important, but they tell you he's been highly productive. There wasn't a time last year that he held us back from winning. If we play good football and run the ball well, he'll be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He's that well equipped and gifted and he has a cast around him that is worthy of that kind of expectation.

I thought the one corner spot was a huge question going into spring football, but Darrell Rideaux was probably the most improved player in the spring. He was a highlighted player and did a great job. It gives me hope that we have a guy with great speed and he's had experience, so that we have a good starter in Darrell. But because he didn't play that much last year, I think there's still a question there. He's done everything we've asked him and is ready to go. Marcell Allmond had a good spring, but he's still a developing player there. What I was really excited to see was Ronald Nunn and Justin Wyatt in our early camp really take to what's going on, learn fast and compete well. Now, if they continue to take positive steps, that'll give us good quality depth. Both run real fast and are good hand-eye guys playing the ball, things that can bail them out of situations when they're inexperienced. The position can be solid, but camp will tell.

There's no question that Maleafou MacKenzie is a terrific third down guy. He's a terrific route runner, he's got the best hands on the team and he's got great sense on how to get open. He's special, unique. He's an NFL-type of third down guy who you move in and out of the backfield and move him around. We'll find ways to utilize him. What's really exciting is Hershel Dennis showed the same qualities in the couple days we practiced. We felt that same way last year about Malaefou but he got hurt and we didn't have anybody who could do the same thing. With Hershel now, we can focus on developing that role on our team. That's not taking anything away from Malaefou running the ball, but he's just special on third downs.

Records are within reach for Kareem. If he has an average for him, he'll hit those numbers. What I'm hoping is he's a big factor where opponents will have to take special consideration. He has extraordinary speed. He's shown the ability to make big plays. If we can get that out of him again, that'll be a great element for us. That gives us the kind of speed you have to do something about. He's already capable of being that type of player. I want to see him do it week in and week out. He has to step up to the call. He's a senior and has an opportunity to give us great play with his experience. Let's do it on a consistent basis. We'll push him very hard. The competition is very high at that position. He's going to have to play good ball to hold his spot so he can get those kind of numbers. I'm looking for him to be a big-strike player who can strike them dead in a heartbeat.

Mike Williams had a great couple days with us. He showed us the things we were hoping he could do. He's a big body receiver who can bang into DBs and push his way off them and catch the ball with guys hanging on him. He made the plays on the fade that you think a 6-5 guys can make. He's got a million miles before he ready and has so many things he has to learn, but the potential is there for him to be a big target for us.

The one big concern is this race we're in to get things tied down before the opener. We have a couple weeks and then we're in game week. We have a number of things we have to get really sharp at. If we're not a really tied together, well-executing team, we'll get whipped the first three weeks of the season. Those teams are good enough to beat you even when you play well. That's why it's so important that we're really focused in camp and that we squeeze every drop out of every opportunity to play well.

I really like Alex Holmes. He can block and he 's a really sure-handed catcher. He made some big catches last year. The experience he has now, I think he can be a really good player. Dominique Byrd lit it up in the freshman camp. He's a potential down-the-field receiver tight end who gives you a little flash that's hard to find. We'll see where he fits in.

A lot of our success relies on our ability to be explosive on offense. We don't have to throw the ball 100 times a game to get that done. We have good players at a number of spots to get that done. You can't forget Justin Fargas gave Sultan McCullough everything he wanted running the 100 and 200. He's got great speed as well. We have lots of fast guys who can score from a long ways out. If we execute real well and put the ball in their hands enough times, then I think good things will happen. We've tailored our style a little with that thought in mind.

Our system and experience should help us stop the run. We got knocked around pretty well early in the season, but overcame it by the end of the season. I don't have any doubt we'll be able to play the run consistently, but whether will we be really strong at it remains to be seen. If we can get some points on the board, that could change how people attack us.

I have no concern about our defensive line. They played so much last year that they're ready to go. I'm not concerned about their experience. I'm more concerned about developing depth there so we can keep those guys fresh and playing at a really high level. Omar Nazel's spot is the one most in question, but he had a great summer. He's a great looking player now. But I'm really excited about Van Brown and Daniel Urquhart giving us depth there.

LaJuan Ramsey looked very strong in camp and ran around real well, a bit of a surprise. You're going to like watching Oscar Lua. He ran well and has a real natural feel for playing inside linebacker. He quite a bit bigger than our other inside linebackers and he plays with a bigger style, handling lineman and taking on blockers. He's very physical and seems to be very bright and picks up things well. If he battles, he might pick up some playing time.

It's obvious we're going to have to play tough, physical football to handle these first three teams. We're going to do that, play hard, tough, physical, attitude ball. If we get that done, we'll be ready for whatever the Pac-10 deals out. It's going to be challenging to our depth, three tough physical games right in a row. But we'll be ready for the Pac-10 if we can survive it physically.

I think the Pac-10 is a total toss-up. Washington State is deserving of the consideration, Washington is very well equipped, Oregon is going to be good again. Arizona is feeling good about themselves, UCLA has the quarterback and a lot of players coming back. It's a very difficult conference. You can't tell right now. I wouldn't be surprised if teams knock each other off and there are a couple losses for everybody.

There's no pressure on being ranked. I don't think we're ranked highly. We're where we probably should be right now. We haven't done anything yet. We'll deserve a ranking if we're any good. The ranking is respect to our program, but we haven't done anything to warrant that.

When you come to USC, you expect the schedule to be tough. And when you get on the practice field, you expect it to be tough there. We're going to take it on and make the most of the schedule. If we're successful this year, we're going to have a heck of a ranking at the end of the year. And we'll have earned it. And we'll be off to a great start with our program.

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