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Healthy Sign of Progress

Times Staff Writer

Linebacker Matt Grootegoed completed a full practice for the first time in more than three weeks Tuesday, a healthy sign for the second-ranked Trojans as they prepare for a possible run at the national title.

Grootegoed, a semifinalist for the Butkus and Lombardi awards, suffered a high left ankle sprain against Stanford on Oct. 11. He started but played only a few series against Notre Dame and did not play against Washington and Washington State.

USC is off this week. The Trojans, who are second in the bowl championship series standings, play at Arizona on Nov. 15 and complete the regular season with games against UCLA and Oregon State.

“I want to finish with a bang,” said Grootegoed, a junior. “I just haven’t really done much this year.

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“I want to play good these last three games, and I want to be close to 100%, so I’m just trying to get back to football-playing condition.”

Coach Pete Carroll had vowed not to approach this bye week the same way as before a Sept. 27 loss to California.

To that end, the Trojans’ two-hour practice featured extensive competition between the first-string offense and first-string defense.

“We’re going to really drive them to work each day, make this a profitable week, and not look at this week in any way as a chance to sit back and kick back,” Carroll said.

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Carroll said specifics were not necessary to evaluate Grootegoed’s performance Tuesday.

“As long as he made it through practice, he looked great,” Carroll said.

Sophomore Dallas Sartz started two games in place of Grootegoed.

The two players, along with middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, took multiple snaps in the same unit Tuesday because weakside linebacker Melvin Simmons is nursing a lower-leg bruise, Carroll said.

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Ryan Killeen was named one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, presented annually to the nation’s top kicker. Killeen has made 15 of 19 field-goal attempts and 43 of 44 extra-point kicks.... Receiver William Buchanon, who has sat out more than a week of practice because of a lower-back problem, had an MRI exam, Carroll said.... Freshman Desmond Reed, who is redshirting, has been moved from defensive back to wide receiver.


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