With starting tight end Kori Dickerson nursing a hip pointer, backup Alex Holmes took more than his share of snaps in practice this week. And, as if that weren't enough, he stayed late a couple of afternoons to work with Coach Pete Carroll on technique.
"I just wanted to step it up," Holmes said.
The effort paid off Saturday as Holmes caught a handful of passes, one of them for a touchdown, in a situational practice at the Coliseum that marked the end of USC's summer training camp.
The practice amounted to a simulated game with the team dressing in the locker room, taking warmups, then running plays while the stadium clock ticked and a crew of officials watched for penalties. Holmes had his best receptions on routes down the middle.
"I felt very comfortable," he said. "There was no hesitation."
The sophomore showed a taste of what he can do last season with seven receptions for 53 yards. But in training camp he has been one of several Trojan receivers who have had trouble catching passes.
"If you are dropping balls, that could mess with the quarterback's confidence in you," he said. "And tight ends aren't always the favorite person to throw to anyway."
Thus the extra sessions with the coach.
"He has really become part of the offense," Carroll said. "This has been a tremendous break for him with Kori being out and he has answered."
Carroll was also impressed by backup cornerback Kevin Arbet, whose knack for making big plays has earned him a place in the nickel package. On Saturday, he intercepted two passes.
Fans might remember Arbet as the defensive back who was burned for a last-second touchdown last season against Stanford. He feels like an improved player now.
"I'm stronger and faster," he said. "I thought I knew the game last year, but I didn't know a lot."
Arbet and the defense dominated the early going. Meanwhile, special teams had a field-goal attempt blocked and the offense could not seem to sustain a drive.
"We felt like we got out of sync," Carroll said.
Coaches challenged the offense to work harder in the second half. Receiver Kareem Kelly got the hint, making a string of catches when he returned to the field. Tailback Sultan McCullough weaved through the defense for a touchdown run.
"We got a lot done," Carroll said. "We got more out of it than I thought we would."
Barring a surprise, Dickerson, offensive lineman Faaesea Mailo and linebacker Matt Grootegoed should be recovered from minor injuries and return to action this week, Carroll said. . . . Safety Troy Polamalu missed practice because of a tight hip flexor but his injury is not considered serious. . . . Wide receiver Steve Stevenson is suffering from a sore hamstring.