Just five weeks after suffering a broken collarbone, junior receiver Ronald Johnson returned to practice Tuesday and is on track to play in the Notre Dame game Oct. 17.
After practice, USC coach Pete Carroll gushed about having the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster back.
“It’s great to have him back,” Carroll said. “He’s got great speed, great playmaking ability, knows our system so well, and he makes other guys play well and he’ll make things happen for us.”
Johnson wore a yellow jersey in practice Tuesday to avoid contact, but teammates said he still made a big impact.
“It was huge, just for the little time that he was out here,” freshman quarterback Matt Barkley said. “You could tell — his spirit, his way of playing — he’s back and it’s awesome.”
Johnson beat the six- to eight-week prognosis for his injury, but he likely won’t be practicing fully until next Monday.
“I’ve been out for like five weeks, so it feels good to be back out there running and catching and playing with the guys a little bit,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m back.”
Johnson was expected to be the Trojans’ starting flanker this season after hauling in 33 receptions for 570 yards a season ago. He’s also a team leader of sorts for USC.
“It’s fun,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “Everybody loves RoJo. He’s such a great worker and he contributes so much to the tempo of practice and the playmaking and all that.”
A few other Trojans are on the mend this week.
Sophomore defensive end Armond Armstead also returned to practice Tuesday. He had missed six weeks after breaking his left foot at fall camp.
Armstead had been penciled in as a starting defensive end before the injury, but he was forced to watch from the sidelines with a large boot on his foot during the team’s 4-1 start.
“On X-rays you can’t even see the fracture anymore,” Armstead said. “It’s healed, so there’s not really much worry about reinjuring it.”
The injury originally occurred when linebacker Shane Horton stepped on Armstead’s foot during a drill.
“Armstead is scheduled to play next week, but he is further behind because he was unable to condition his lower body [while he was injured],” Carroll said. “He feels great and wants to do it, but we just gotta get him back in shape.”
Junior linebacker Malcolm Smith is also healthy again. He missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain, but returned to practice Tuesday.
Carroll said Smith could have played against Cal had it been an emergency situation.
Added Carroll: “He’s looking like he’ll be ready to compete next week.”
Another goal of the bye week for the Trojans is to develop the younger talent on the roster.
Seven freshmen have seen playing time so far this season, but Carroll said they could have an even bigger influence.
“What we’re trying to do with this bye opportunity is to give a lot of guys chances to see where they fit in,” Carroll said. “We’re trying to help the young guys elevate.”
Carroll specifically highlighted a quintet of freshman — receiver De’Von Flournoy, offensive linemen Kevin Graf and John Martinez and safeties T.J. McDonald, and Jawanza Starling — as those who the coaching staff is hoping to get a good look this week.
“We’re just trying to find out what they know and what they don’t know,” Carroll said. “It’s all the new guys, the young guys. We want to see how far we can take them.”
Carroll also said the kicking competition would be renewed at placekicker, with redshirt junior Joe Houston challenging the incumbent, senior Jordan Congdon.
“With the kicking game, we’re opening up competition for the placekicking, just because it looks like the guys are just about neck-and-neck again,” Carroll said. “We’re gonna see that go through.”
Congdon has made six of eight field goal attempts this season.