Freshman wide receiver George Farmer came to USC from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., expecting to make an immediate impact. He was the top wide receiver recruit in the country and No. 3 in the Rivals.com Top 100.
Farmer hoped to have a Robert Woods-like impact, but injuries plagued him throughout summer and fall camp. Farmer has been relegated to the service team so far this year, but not as punishment.
“George is doing great for us,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve had a great three weeks with him on the service team. He’s played quarterback, he’s played tailback, he’s played receiver.”
Indeed, the 6-foot-1, 205 pound freshman has been invaluable to the Trojans’ service in imitating some of the opposition’s biggest playmakers for the scout team. But obviously that’s not the long-term plan for the former five-star recruit.
“We’ve actually been putting him at running back in individual [workouts],” Kiffin said. “And he looks great there. So if that could work out … that would be real exciting. He’s a big, physical guy that’s one of the fastest guys in the country. We’re still lacking game-breaking speed back there.”
According to Kiffin, Farmer played running back before he attended Serra, so the position would not be completely foreign to him.
The hottest position battle at practice right now might be for one of the least glamorous: right tackle.
Redshirt sophomore Kevin Graf started at right tackle for the Trojans last week at Arizona State, but looked unimpressive. As a result, the coaching staff has moved freshman Aundrey Walker back from guard to tackle, where Walker began the season as a backup.
“It’s a big adjustment,” Walker said. “I got to learn new assignments, new blocking schemes, coming off the ball with certain steps. And I got to work on my pass protection.”
Walker said although actual game experience is helpful, there is a lot he needs to brush up on.
“Moving to tackle, everything is different,” Walker said. “So basically, I gotta re-learn everything. I had everything down back at guard, but it’s way different when you move to tackle.”
Walker is listed at 375 pounds, but says his weight is actually down to 350. He says his goal weight is 335, and that losing weight has helped.
“I’ve seen improvement in my punch,” Walker said. “And in finishing my blocks as well. On both pass and run.”
Senior Ross Cumming has officially moved from linebacker to fullback, positions he described as near mirror images of each other.
“Playing fullback, you need to understand what the linebackers are trying to do,” Cumming said, explaining that fullbacks are often matched up against linebackers in blocking schemes. “So I have that advantage having played that role.”
Cumming’s move to fullback allows senior Rhett Ellison to return to tight end. Ellison was named to the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award — given annually to the nation’s best tight end — but injuries forced the versatile senior to move to fullback. With Cumming stepping into that void, the Trojans have a pair of high-caliber tight ends in Ellison and redshirt freshman Randall Telfer.
Kiffin said he doesn’t expect Ellison to return as the starting tight end this week, but didn’t rule out the possibility for later in the season.
The Trojans were back in pads for Wednesday’s practice after not using them last Wednesday. But Kiffin said it wasn’t about setting a more physical tone.
“We’re usually in pads on Wednesday,” Kiffin said. “We weren’t last week because we had so many little [injuries] the Tuesday before.”
Just because the Trojans were in pads today doesn’t mean they aren’t getting bit by the injury bug.
Kiffin announced redshirt sophomore linebacker Marquis Simmons will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury. Sophomore cornerback Torin Harris, freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson, junior offensive tackle Matt Kalil and freshman tailback Amir Carlisle missed practice. Dawson was out of his walking boot for the first time this week, but Carlisle was still sporting one.