LOS ANGELES (AP) - Injuries to several important players and a rare illness contracted by another caused some concern during training camp as No. 3 Southern California prepared for the season.
Now, with the opener just a few days away, speedy recoveries not only have the Trojans at ease, but put them in better condition at this time of year than they've been in recent memory.
``We came out of camp real healthy,'' USC coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday, pointing to cornerback Shareece Wright as the only key player whose status for Saturday's game at Virginia seems uncertain.
Wright, listed as a first-stringer on the depth chart, has been slowed by an abdominal injury. But like quarterback Mark Sanchez and tailback C.J. Gable, he has improved significantly in recent days and might be ready to play against the Cavaliers.
And if he isn't, the Trojans have Josh Pinkard as a backup. Pinkard was a first-stringer in 2005 who started the 2006 opener before injuries forced him to miss nearly two full seasons.
``We've been very fortunate,'' Carroll said. ``For the sake of the kids, knock on wood, we can keep that going and keep these guys able to play. Camp was very physical and very aggressive, and the guys were able to handle it. We were in great shape to handle the workload, and it's showed up and paid off for us. So hopefully we'll continue.''
Sanchez dislocated his left kneecap without being touched on Aug. 8 - the third day of practice - but has recovered to the point where it's a virtual certainty he'll start against Virginia, pending a check by team doctors.
``Mark practiced really well yesterday,'' Carroll said. ``He's had a couple good days under his belt. His knee is still a little bit swollen and kind of black and blue, but he's not in any serious pain at all. He's managed very well.''
Gable, one of four tailbacks who figure to share playing time, injured his hip last week, but looked good at practice Monday and said afterward he's ready to go.
``C.J. Gable came flying. He had a great day of practice yesterday,'' Carroll said. ``He was at full speed and was on a mission to prove that he was full speed. He's not missing this game. We all thought he was in big, big trouble, but he just wouldn't hear of it.''
Joe McKnight, another tailback, injured two fingers when a teammate accidentally closed a dormitory door on his right hand and later hurt his elbow, but is OK now.
Linebacker Brian Cushing sprained his left wrist a couple weeks ago, and was wearing a wrap on his wrist Monday.
``I'm playing. I'm practicing every day,'' he said. I'm ready to go.''
And guard Jeff Byers, the only returning starter on the offensive line, was sick for what he called the better part of two months with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but he's OK now.
``I feel great. I've been healthy for a week and a half,'' he said Tuesday. ``It was definitely a frustrating experience. I learned a lot about medicine, how it works. It was scary at times. I had a real high fever, bad stuff. I was on antibiotics for 10 days, they said that should kill the bacterial infection. They weren't letting me do anything.
``It seems like we're extremely healthy,'' added Byers, a fifth-year senior. ``I can't remember going into the opener with the team pretty much intact. Luck helped.''
The Trojans and Cavaliers will be meeting for the first time. Virginia was 9-4 last season, but returns only 10 starters. USC, 11-2 last year including a 49-17 victory over Illinois in the Rose Bowl, is listed as a 19 1/2-point favorite.
``That means nothing to me,'' Carroll said. ``It's a big-time football game. We expect it's going to be a very difficult game. We're holding nothing back, we're not resting anybody and we're not going to get somebody ready for a couple weeks from now. We're going for it and that's the only way we know how to do it.
``We have a lot of similarities. They are a a pretty classic, as I would see it, classic run and play-action team. It's an NFL offense is what it is, and an NFL 3-4 defense that Al (Groh) brought from his years in the league.''
Groh, like Carroll, is a former head coach in the NFL.
``Coach Groh's team looks a lot like the Patriots, the Jets, teams he was a part of,'' Carroll said.
So was Carroll, who coached the Jets for one season and the Patriots for three in the 1990s.
Carroll said there's a good possibility that six-to-eight true freshmen will play for the Trojans in the opener, and that number could double in the upcoming weeks.

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