USC football practice notes: Receiver, cornerback lineups in flux (11/6)

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

The start of Cal Week for USC football featured some lineup shuffles as the Trojans contend with the potential absence of two key starters.

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USC football enters Homecoming Week with a must-win matchup against Cal. Unfortunately, the Trojans also enter the week with some major issues to deal with at receiver and cornerback.

Injuries to wide out Michael Pittman and corner Iman Marshall have USC shuffling the lineup on both ends. The situation at cornerback appears to be the most dire.

Marshall has a sprained ankle which prevented him from practicing on Tuesday. He is joined on the injury list by Greg Johnson. Freshman Olaijah Griffin is making his way back from a shoulder injury, while fellow freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart remains out with a foot issue.

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Johnson and Taylor-Stuart have been ruled out, but Marshall and Griffin may yet be able to play. That means the Trojans are planning best and worst-case scenarios for the weekend.

“I’ve got to find out who’s going to be alive and available,” head coach Clay Helton said.

On Tuesday, the two starting cornerback spots were filled by Isaiah Langley and nickelback Jonathan Lockett. They were backed up by Griffin and Dominic Davis.

The clearest sign of USC’s depth problems at the position? Freshman linebacker Raymond Scott practiced as a slot corner.

The situation at receiver is less extreme, but the Trojans are still facing the prospect of playing without their leading pass catcher.

Pittman’s likely absence will be filled by freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is now slated to start opposite Tyler Vaughns, Helton said.

The starting lineup of St. Brown, Vaughns and slot receiver Velus Jones Jr. will be supplemented by Freshman Devon Williams, Josh Imatorbhebhe and Trevon Sidney.

“We’ve got a true two-deep in our three wide package right now and feel confident in all six kids to step in and make plays,” Helton said.

Notes and tidbits

  • Shake up on the offensive line? Alijah Vera-Tucker split first team reps with starting right guard Andrew Vorhees on Tuesday. It’s not clear if Vera-Tucker is an option to replace Vorhees at that spot, but it is a change in the second week with new offensive line coach Tim Drevno.
  • Bears on a roll… Cal comes into this week’s game at 5-4, but have put in arguably their two best performances of the year in the past two weeks. “The team’s playing at an extremely high level,” Helton said of Justin Wilcox’s squad pointing to their home upset of Washington and a competitive road loss to Washington State.
  • Spine of the defense… The Bears rank in the Top 20 defensively thanks in large part to defensive lineman Chris Palmer, linebacker Evan Weaver and safety Ashtyn Davis, according to Helton. “I’ve always thought good defenses are built down the middle,” the head coach said. “That nose, that mike and that free safety are three of the top players in our conference right now. It’s no wonder you look up and they’re one of the better defenses in our conference.”
  • Disguising the defense… One thing that makes Cal so difficult to play against on defense is their scheme, designed by Wilcox and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. Both Helton and quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis highlighted the task quarterback JT Daniels will face identifying the Bears’ defense on any given play. “They do a tremendous job of showing you one thing and bailing to another,” Helton said. It won’t just be a challenge for the quarterback to read the defense either. Helton is looking for great communication across the offensive line and at running back as they set up pass protection.
  • Blue-collar runners… Helton used the term “blue collar” to describe both Cal’s Patrick Laird and USC’s Aca’Cedric Ware on Tuesday. Laird is “as blue-collar a runner as there is in our league,” Helton said. He also credited him with being a threat out of the backfield. As for Ware, Helton compared him to former Trojan Justin Davis. “It’s that blue-collar, every day, show up and grind worker…There’s probably men that run faster, probably men that are bigger, maybe stronger, but you’re going to look up every day you’re going to get his best effort.” For Helton, Ware’s best effort is usually 100 yards. Against Oregon State, it was 200.
  • Dual quarterback challenge… Cal has yet to settle on a quarterback this season, using both Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain this season. Since the two are so different, that’s something extra the Trojans will have to prepare for this week. Garbers is the passer who can “make all the throws,” Helton said. Meanwhile, McIlwain is a “great athlete and dynamic runner…Almost like having a running back back there.”