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Cushing has felt this kind of thing before

Times Staff Writer

USC’s Brian Cushing was selected as the defensive player of the game in last season’s Rose Bowl despite a knee injury that had forced him to miss most of the Trojans’ final preparations.

The junior linebacker from New Jersey might have inadvertently set himself up for a similar scenario Friday.

Cushing went down in a heap after knocking knees with receiver Brandon Carswell and needed assistance off the practice field at the Home Depot Center. With his knee wrapped in ice, he sat solemnly on a trainer’s table for the remainder of the workout and then limped to the locker room.

Cushing said he might have suffered a bone bruise.

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“I thought the worst when it happened,” he said. “I mean it hurt like hell. “I’m sure it’s going to be sore, but I’ll play in the game. There’s no doubt.”

In last season’s Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, four of Cushing’s seven tackles were for losses, including 2 1/2 sacks. Many regarded it as a performance that would serve as a springboard to a stellar 2007 season and then a jump to the NFL.

But Cushing had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee after spring practice and has battled injuries throughout this season.

Cushing sprained his ankle in the opener against Idaho and played sparingly against Nebraska before aggravating the sprain and suffering a fracture against Washington State.

He sat out the next three games but played well down the stretch.

Cushing said last month that he would return for his final season of eligibility. Another dynamic Rose Bowl performance could once again make him a candidate for preseason All-American recognition.

But after practice Friday, Cushing was concentrating on a more immediate goal.

“I’ve got to get through this and be ready to play in the Rose Bowl,” he said. “I did it before, and I can do it again.”

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With senior tailback Chauncey Washington still sitting out because of a hip injury, sophomore Stafon Johnson has taken numerous repetitions with the first team. Johnson appears to be running with the natural gait that has been missing since he suffered a foot injury against Washington on Sept. 29.

Johnson said a few weeks ago that he didn’t think he’d fully recover this season. But he apparently has revised that thought.

“I’m good,’ he said.

Washington, meanwhile, said that he postponed a planned MRI exam and that he would practice next week when the Trojans begin final preparations for Illinois.

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Receiver Patrick Turner remains out because of a bruised quadriceps suffered while making a catch in practice last week. Coach Pete Carroll said he hoped the junior would be able to practice next week but added, “If he can’t make it back, we’re ready to go without him.” . . . Carroll said defensive coach David Watson was absent to be with his wife, who gave birth to the couple’s second child, a boy. . . . USC will practice today at the Home Depot Center at 11:30 a.m. The Trojans will then be off for three days before resuming practice Dec. 26 on campus.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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