A day after Pete Carroll applauded Damian Williams' toughness, the junior wide receiver practiced for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain against Arizona State, and was cleared to play by team doctors.
Williams got in limited work during Tuesday's practice, running and testing his ankle by running routes, and was further along than expected.
"Damian really surprised me. He got some stuff done today, and once he kind of got going and could feel his way through it, he got warmed up and was running pretty smooth," Carroll said. "He was controlled but way, way better than I thought he would look today, so that's a big plus for him.
"I know he was really upbeat about it and the trainers were really surprised as well."
Williams, who has a team-high 45 receptions for 688 yards and five touchdowns, was very optimistic about his progress and his chances to play this Saturday against the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins.
"I am definitely encouraged," he said. "I am happy to be out on the field again, I haven't practice for like three weeks now or four weeks. I am just happy to be back out there."
Williams wore new cleats and a custom ankle brace to support the injured ankle.
"It is custom made. They cast it first and make a concrete model of your ankle and then they cut down the plastic so it's molded directly to my ankle," he explained. "My other shoe is not wide enough at the top to support the brace because the brace goes into my shoe."
After practice, Williams met with the medical staff and was cleared to play.
The return of the junior playmaker will boost the struggling USC offense as well as special teams, where he has added 2 punt returns for touchdowns this season.
UCLA wide receiver Nelson Rosario, a 6-foot-5, 211-pound sophomore from Oceanside, California, has emerged as one the Bruins' top offensive weapons this season and a player that could give USC's secondary matchup problems this week.
After catching just 12 passes in the Bruins' first seven games of the season, Rosario had a breakout performance against Oregon State, pulling in a team-high six receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown.
"He's made a lot of big plays. He's able to make things happen when he is covered," Carroll said. "That's what the big guys can do and I know Norm (Chow) is accustomed to that kind of receiver and he's using him."
Rosario followed up his strong performance against the Beavers, with a career-high 7 catches for 111 yards in UCLA's 24-23 victory over Washington, and became the first Bruin to record back-to-back 100 yard receiving games since Marcedes Lewis in 2005.
"It will be a big matchup for Kevin (Thomas) and Josh (Pinkard) and they are studying him closely because he has a real knack about catching the football," Carroll said.
The playmaking sophomore has recorded 21 receptions for 406 yards in the past four games and figures to be a big part of the Bruins offense on Saturday.
- USC verbal commit D.J. Morgan was at practice on Tuesday. The speedy tailback from Taft High School suffered a torn ACL during a playoff game last Thursday.
- Senior offensive lineman Nick Howell has put together two very solid weeks of practice and is making a push for playing time at right guard.
"He had a very good week last week and Nick brings a real physical presence that we like," Carroll said. "He is right in the middle of the competition."
- One player that the USC Trojans recruited, but ended up across town, and will have a big impact on the outcome of Saturday's game is UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price. The junior is tops in the Pac-10 with 20.5 tackles for loss in 2009.
"There is nobody that can really handle him one-on-one," Carroll said. "He's a big-time draft pick. He'll be a favorite for the NFL when his time comes. He's got all the right attributes. He's really got a great base and center of gravity."
- The USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins both have had their share of struggles on the offensive side of the ball this season, which has been due in part to playing freshmen quarterbacks.
"Of course that is a factor when you have new players playing. There is a learning curve," Carroll said. "There are going to be issues. There are to be times when they wished they had known something that they fell prey to."
- During his weekly press conference at Heritage Hall, Pete Carroll discussed the USC-UCLA rivalry and why it is such a special matchup.
"I think it's just one of the special aspects of being part of USC. And the special aspect of being part of UCLA that you have this extraordinary classic rivalry right across town," Carroll said. "You get it anticipate it all year long. Then you get to live with the results of it, too, which are a big deal. So it's very exciting."
- Carroll said the Trojans will spend a lot of time this week game planning for UCLA's passing game.
"I think you have to," Carroll said. "They have a controlled passing game that's diverse, and he handles it well, and you can move the football with that without having to run the football. I think it's important that we really do respect what Kevin (Prince) can do."
Offensive lineman Nick Howell is making a push for playing time at right guard.
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