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Shifts Address Cornerback Depth

Times Staff Writer

Senior wide receiver William Buchanon and two first-year players recovering from injuries worked out at cornerback Monday as top-ranked USC took steps to shore up its thinning secondary in preparation for Saturday’s Pacific 10 Conference opener at No. 24 Oregon.

Coach Pete Carroll said Buchanon, junior college transfer Mozique McCurtis and freshman Will Harris could provide depth for a defense that will probably be without starting cornerback Terrell Thomas for the rest of the season. Thomas suffered a knee injury Saturday during USC’s 70-17 victory over Arkansas.

“We have to maximize whatever we need to give us some backup help,” Carroll said of a secondary that also lost starter Eric Wright before the season.

Fifth-year senior John Walker will start in place of Thomas. Senior Justin Wyatt is the other starting corner. Freshmen Kevin Thomas and Cary Harris, who played for the first time against Arkansas, are the backups.

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Carroll said he spoke to Buchanon, who started three games at cornerback in 2002, before practice.

“He knew it was almost a necessity to do something, so he was primed and ready,” Carroll said. “We’re not taking him off the offensive side the ball at all. We’re just going to get him some reps during the week and in an emergency situation he’ll jump in there for us.”

Junior flanker Steve Smith, who was regarded as an outstanding high school defensive back, said he spoke to offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin about playing both ways.

“I don’t know if they took me seriously, but if something else happens, I’m ready,” Smith said.

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Carroll recruited McCurtis, who played one season at Grossmont College, in June after the school announced Wright was leaving USC.

McCurtis, however, had abdominal surgery in August and had not practiced until Monday. McCurtis will not participate in contact drills until later this week and said he would be ready to play extensively by next week.

“My feet are just rusty because I haven’t done anything in six weeks,” McCurtis said.

Harris arrived at USC as a safety but was switched to cornerback during training camp. He sat out four weeks because of an ankle injury before practicing Monday.

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Terrell Thomas said doctors are certain that he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. But the redshirt sophomore is waiting until today to find out whether he also tore the anterior cruciate ligament, which would require surgery. Thomas said his injury resulted from a “freak accident,” when he was hit from the side while running toward Trojan defensive end Lawrence Jackson to congratulate him on making a play.

“I was poised for a breakout game, but everything happens for a reason,” said Thomas, who redshirted in 2003 while recovering from shoulder surgery. “I’m not going to sit here and cry about it. I’m over it.”

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Junior safety Darnell Bing, who sat out the Arkansas game because of a hip injury, practiced and said he should be ready to start Saturday. ... Linebacker Dallas Sartz missed practice to have an MRI exam on his left shoulder. Sartz dislocated the shoulder against Arkansas and will miss the Oregon game. Sophomore Thomas Williams will start in his place. ... Kickoff for USC’s game at Arizona State on Oct. 1 is 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised by ABC.


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