UNLV coach Mike Sanford denied any improper contact took place but USC has pursued the matter since the summer and even examined phone records for signs of communication between the players and Rebels coaches. USC coach Pete Carroll denied permission for Hinds and Wright to transfer to UNLV but a university hearing overturned that decision last summer. Both players are currently redshirting for the Rebels. LOS ANGELES — The NCAA has opened an investigation into the transfer of former USC players Rocky Hinds and Eric Wright to UNLV, according to sources. USC has alleged improper contact took place before Hinds and Wright officially transferred and the NCAA has interviewed people familiar with the case. Under NCAA rules, an athlete may not speak to other schools until obtaining a release. Carroll is encouraged by the return of Barrett and defensive end Jeff Schweiger, who could see his first playing time of the season after being out with a broken foot. “You can feel the energy of all the new guys,’ Carroll said. Safety Josh Pinkard moved to weak-side linebacker, so he could perform the role previously filled by Kevin Ellison (fractured knee) when USC played its “big nickel’ defense. With Pinkard moving to linebacker, Ryan Ting has played safety in nickel situations. Carroll said if freshman linebacker Brian Cushing (dislocated shoulder) doesn’t return within two weeks, he will probably redshirt. Linebacker Dallas Sartz is expected back next week, but if for some reason his return were delayed, Carroll said there’s a chance he could also redshirt. But Sartz will start as soon as he is cleared to play, Carroll said. Carroll scoffed at suggestions that he used loudspeakers in Wednesday’s practice as preparation for next week’s Notre Dame game. “I did it because we were moving whenever Arizona State flinched at the line,’ he said. “There’s noise at the Coliseum too. Why would I do it today for the Notre Dame game? That had nothing to do with it.’ Even after Matt Leinart suffered a concussion and ran an incorrect play, USC didn’t consider removing him from the Arizona State game. “I don’t know if he was fine, but we weren’t going to take him out,’ offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said. “He’s not the Heisman Trophy leader for nothing.’ Scott Wolf can be reached at (818) 713-3607. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 Wright was suspended for three years by USC in August after police discovered 136 ecstasy pills in his apartment last spring. Tight end Dale Thompson broke his right hand in the Arizona State game and is wearing a cast. Thompson said he would be able to play. Linebacker Oscar Lua, who dislocated his finger, did not practice but will probably return today. Lua said he was more bothered by a cut in his hand when the bone broke through his skin. “I was bleeding pretty good,’ Lua said. “They’re going to tape my fingers together for the game.’ Defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey (sprained ankle) remains questionable so defensive end Chris Barrett has moved to nose guard. Freshman Will Harris, easing back into action, keeps re-injuring his sprained ankle.