Sanchez takes some big steps

Times Staff Writers

It took 10 days before USC quarterback Mark Sanchez was able to show he could drop back with speed and make a variety of passes after dislocating his left kneecap.

The junior now has about a week to demonstrate he is fit enough to possibly start in the Aug. 30 opener at Virginia.

On Monday, under the watchful eye of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Sanchez went through a battery of throws to a rehabilitation specialist. He also played catch with Coach Pete Carroll.


“If it were up to me, I’m playing,” said Sanchez, who is scheduled to throw to receivers today.

Sanchez, however, added that there is still some swelling and also pain when he attempts to fully flex his left leg. He allowed that trainers would make the final decision about his readiness after monitoring his recovery through the week.

Sarkisian said he was impressed by Sanchez’s progress.

“I liked his ability to drop with some urgency. I liked his ability to throw the ball with velocity. But obviously, he still has a ways to go. I’m glad we’re not playing tomorrow.”

Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp are vying to step in for Sanchez if he can’t play against Virginia. But Sarkisian said his first choice would be Sanchez if he is sound by next Tuesday.

“If he’s healthy, he gives us the best opportunity to go win,” Sarkisian said.


Getting a line on o-line

With Jeff Byers and Alex Parsons returning to full-contact practice, coaches said they see improvement in the offensive line’s performance.


Over the last week, mistakes and miscommunication along the front have translated into a disruptive pass rush, which has made it hard to evaluate Mustain and Corp. Still, Carroll said he hasn’t asked his defensive line to let up.

“I’m not trying to make it so we can’t make progress,” Carroll said. “I’m trying to keep it hard on [the quarterbacks] and keep it realistic.”

While Mustain and Corp have suffered through sacks and deflected passes, Sarkisian sees a bright side to their predicament. He watches how they react to pressure, a skill that could prove crucial if they must replace Sanchez.

“Some guys are going to get beat and some guys will come free,” Sarkisian said. “[The quarterbacks] have to have the ability to throw the football away, run, make plays with their legs.”

Monday, Mustain and Corp took turns in a variety of situations: the four-minute offense, backed up on their own one-yard line and overtime. Corp appeared to do well with the four-minute, both had success backed-up and both struggled in overtime, Sarkisian said.


McKnight takes it easy

Running back Joe McKnight participated in a few drills but did not participate in contact work because of a hyperextended right elbow and also bleeding caused when he aggravated finger injuries.

“Neither one of those things can really stop him from playing in the [opener], but we need to let it heal,” Carroll said.

McKnight cannot afford to miss too much time, running backs coach Todd McNair said.

“He needs to get some work and get things down.”


Quick kicks

Running back Marc Tyler did not practice because of a sore ankle, McNair said. . . . USC practices today at 4 p.m.