Head Coach Karl Dorrell spoke Wednesday after practice to the media.
"Everybody practiced, except for Chris Horton. But Chris Horton was jogging and running around pretty good today. I would say he has an opportunity, that it's 50-50 he might play in this game. That's progress that I wasn't expecting. But he was out running around pretty good today. We'll see how he goes next week. Maurice Drew practiced the whole practice. Jarrad Page practiced the whole practice. The only one that still is not cleared from a contact standpoint is Derrick Williams. He still has some lingering effects from the concussion. Ben Lorier practiced. Marcedes Lewis looks a lot better. So we should be pretty close to full strength on Monday."
It was a light practice?
"It was like the day before. We were in our shoulder pads and went through our team work. We ran some seven-on-seven, did some pass-unders. It was just a shorter time period, an hour and a half practice. We took out all the individual and just did all the team work."
Did you tell them anything specific after practice, like, go have fun for a couple of days then you better come back focused for USC?
"That's exactly the mindset I wanted. I wanted them to get away, a chance to eat real good, get a good meal, visit with your family, then when you come back Sunday, there's a great opportunity that we have this weekend. We're on par of what we need to be successful next week. We've put in most of the game-planning stuff. It's done already. So we have another good week to clean up a lot of issues, and get ourselves to play at the level we need to play. Next week will be more working on our timing and getting those things back. It's hard to replicate timing in practice. But we'll do a lot more face-paced game situations in the early portion of the week to get that back. And then get crisp."
You'll be in full pads next week?
Have you decided whether you like the three weeks off?
"I'll have a better idea by next Saturday at about 6 o'clock. Honestly, it's too much time. I've never done anything like this. It's okay to have a bye and come back another week and play. But this is how our situation was set up this year."
Has it been hard to keep them focused?
"No. That hasn't been hard. It's just you don't want to lose the rhythm of what you're doing in your season. That's what's hard. Because of this being so late, and you've played 10 games, it shouldn't be as hard a factor, to really get yourself back into it. It happens in the NFL all the time, when you have a late bye like this. It's helpful for our injuries. We're getting some guys back. So it's definitely helpful in that standpoint. The only issue is making sure you get that rhythm back to what you had before you went into this, which I think we can do."
With Chris Horton, is it a matter of his physical status, or getting him game-ready, whether it will determine if he plays?
"It's a physical issue. He's always kept his head in what we're doing. If he feels capable of being able to play, physically, I think he'll be right where we want him to be."
Is Kevin Harbour practicing?
"He is practicing. He hasn't done any of our team work, but he's done all of the individual drills. The doctors have not cleared him for full speed contact, just limited activity, which is what he's been doing. There might be a chance for him to play in a bowl game, which will be something for him to do."
How does he say he's feeling?
"He's getting better. Now that he's done all of the d-line technique work and individual stuff, it's 'Oh, I'm not quite what I thought I was going to be.' You know, with all the cutting and explosion, and your leg gets tired all of a sudden. There are all of those things getting in condition that he hasn't been able to do. And that takes some time. In terms of the structure of the knee, he's fine."
How many scholarships do you have available for next year?
"20 or 21. We're at 20 right now for sure. We'll see. There are some players that could come back, too. The door is cracked open for them to return. There are two guys, but they're going to have to prove a lot to me, that they're ready for this situation again, in both cases. In fact, one was on campus yesterday and said he was doing well. That's a great step, but it's going to take more than a re-instatement back into the university. It's going to be whether they fit our profile of what we need. That's what we evaluate year to year, because scholarships are scholarships. It's not like they don't count against that 20 or 21. We have an idea of where we're going. So it's whether they fit back in with what the team is in 2005. But things change. Like with Tab Perry. You talk about a guy who had to get himself re-instated as a senior. It's different if you're a senior, the courses you have to make up to get back into school here. That's difficult. For him to do that, you're talking about a guy that changed. I think that off-the-field experience alone is going to help with football. It's understanding just what it takes to work that hard."
When Tab left the program that January, did you ever think you'd see him again?
"Not at that time. His mindset was totally different than what it is now. It wasn't going in the same direction as what our program is going. So, no, I didn't. We talk about that often, when we see him out there stretching before practice. He's enjoying the game. He's enjoying playing, and appreciates playing. That attitude that he has right now is going to give him an opportunity after his season's over here, if he maintains that mindset."
Even without looking at his stats?
"I think so. Look at him. That's a good-looking athlete, that really has a lot of upside. He hasn't tapped all of his potential yet. I wish I had two years of him, when we had time to work with him. I feel fortunate just to have one year with him."
What do you think turned it around for him?
"Getting football taken away. I remember my redshirt year. I didn't redshirt until my junior year. Playing two years, and then redshirting your junior year, and not playing for a whole season, boy, I missed it. You miss playing. Even though day in and day out, you practice and complain about practice. But when something's taken away from you like that, you end up appreciating it when you get an opportunity to get it back. I'm sure he felt the same way."
You think the younger receivers have benefitted from his sacrifice this year?
"I think they have. He shared it from time to time, what he used to think and how he thinks now. That bit of advice is very helpful for those young guys, to take advantage of the opportunities they have now. I'm not saying that he's all of a sudden a knight in shining armor and does everything perfectly. But he's changed considerably in the right direction, and that's what I'm pleased about."
Describe the direction that you see this program going, next year and beyond.
"I like the direction it's headed right now. Really, the opportunities this year, we could have been an 8-2 type of team right now. We could have won two games that we didn't win. Unfortunately we didn't play well enough to do those things. But on the flip side of those experiences, we would not have grown as a team, to go through where you hit bottom and then have to dig yourself out of the hole. I mentioned this before the season, that last season was, even though it was a bad season for us overall, it was the very thing that we needed to understand the mindset of what it takes to compete and bring back a winning attitude. We're building on those attitudes, and how to compete. Sometimes you fall short. But I think when you fall short your response really determines what you're really all about. That's what this team has done. When we've hit those stumbling blocks, we've responded and gotten back up. Am I happy about the direction? I'm probably not happy, but I'm encouraged. I think we're heading in the right direction. With a couple more recruiting classes, and building the foundation, and a bit further where you're actually doing the framing, and doing it with recruits, we're going to be exactly where we need to be in the near future."
Was there a point when you looked at things and thought you were really going in the right direction?
"I've seen several points. In the off-season. In-season. There are a lot that stand out. When we lost, this year, we responded. We had a two-game losing streak, where at that point in the season people were writing us off anyway. That's just how things are. The second loss, we had a great opportunity to win. That was the Arizona State game. We didn't do the things necessary to win. But then we came back and played one of our better team efforts against Stanford. The loss after Washington State, then coming back and having to play well against Oregon, and then playing USC next week, there is always a lot of stuff that you have to deal with in order to get yourself back to a mindset of winning. There's always a lot of outside experiences, perceptions, media - whatever - that puts a lot of pressure on these kids. And they had to deal with that, and then go up there and play their best game all year in a hostile environment. So there were a number of experiences like that that have shown that type of growth. Are we where we want to be? No. But I believe we're not afraid to work. I believe we have a better feel of what it takes to be one of the best programs in the country. It's going to take more consistency. It's going to take wanting to do the things the way it should be done all the time."
How close are you, do you think?
"I don't know. I'll let you know when we get there. We're going in the right direction. In the end, I'll never really be satisfied until we get the perfect season. That's what I'm striving for, to have that great season."