LOS ANGELES -- Coach Pete Carroll usually keeps Southern California's freshmen out of the spotlight for the first week of fall camp, barring them from interviews to allow them to concentrate on practice and drills.
As Matt Barkley demonstrated in the Trojans' opening workout of camp Saturday, he's an unusual freshman.
The highly touted quarterback prospect from Orange County looked sharp in USC's first workout since spring ball, holding his own with first-stringer Aaron Corp and seasoned backup Mitch Mustain in a vigorous set of throwing drills. Although Corp won the starting job out of spring, Carroll acknowledges things could change in the four weeks leading up to the Trojans' season opener.
"I've learned everything they've thrown at me, but I'm still learning every day," Barkley said. "I don't know the whole audible system yet, but I'm getting there. ... It's just fun to be going to work and thinking about where we've got to get before the season starts."
Barkley graduated one semester early from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, enrolling at USC in time to participate in spring practice. As the 2008 national high school athlete of the year, Barkley could hardly arrive with higher expectations at USC, where he's expected to follow in the footsteps of Carson Palmer, fellow Mater Dei star Matt Leinart, and Mark Sanchez.
"Barkley is a whole big leap ahead of where he was, and that's what we need to see," Carroll said. "You guys will keep asking me, and I'll keep saying the same thing. Right now, Aaron is in the lead position, and we'll keep coming out here."
Barkley probably won't find it easy to get ahead of Corp, a fellow Orange County high school star who backed up Sanchez last year.
Although they both have powerful arms, Corp is taller and is thought to be more mobile than Barkley. Corp also has the advantage of an extra year in the USC system, which hasn't changed much even with the arrival of Jeremy Bates, the new assistant head coach of the offense.
"Right now, my mindset is, 'Don't look back, keep pushing forward and keep my job,' I guess is the way I'd put it," Corp said.
Corp has been talking to Palmer and Sanchez in recent days, with both NFL quarterbacks urging him to take over the Trojans in much the same way they did. While Carroll was wowed by Barkley's increased knowledge of the offense, he also noticed Corp's more sophisticated skills.
"He played football already today," Carroll said. "He wasn't quiet. He was just out having fun, and I sensed that."
Corp realizes he also must fend off Mustain, the former Arkansas freshman starter who played sparingly last year for the Trojans after transferring to the West Coast in 2007. Mustain probably could start for the majority of the Pac-10's other teams, but he could end up third on the Trojans' depth chart.
"I'm just hoping to keep getting better, maybe make a little bit of a flash, and see what I can do," Mustain said.
The Trojans' offense will use all four weeks before the opener against San Jose State to get adjusted to Bates, the seven-year NFL assistant coach who took over the USC offense in January. Carroll also must find depth at tight end, where Blake Ayles had an impressive first practice, while deciding on a pecking order among six talented running backs.
But USC has plenty of talent to chase its eighth consecutive Pac-10 title and BCS bowl berth -- and it still has Carroll, who ran the opening practice with his usual freewheeling, high-spirited energy.
"That was a really fun first day," Carroll said. "I really like to see the energy from our young guys. A lot of fun things happened for us. Most of the guys in the 1-2 spots [on the depth chart] had a good day, and Mitch had a good day, too."