In the weeks leading up to the season, head coach Clay Helton remained optimistic that redshirt sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe would return to the field at full strength. However, the former Florida transfer’s leg injury has failed to improve as expected, and for now, he will be shut down until further notice.
After sitting out much of spring practice with a shoulder issue, Imatorbhebhe injured the area around his hip and thigh about a month ago. He returned to practice a week before the first game and even played against Western Michigan, recording one catch for 11 yards and making a few key blocks for running backs junior Ronald Jones II and freshman Stephen Carr.
However, his condition apparently took a turn for the worse after Week 1, and Imatorbhebhe did not dress out against Stanford last Saturday. Now, Helton is offering no timetable for his return. He is listed as doubtful for this weekend’s game against Texas.
“I was hoping that it would get better and better but it’s just not,” Helton said. “So I’d rather at that position, how much change of direction there is, just shut him down, let the doctors, physicians get him healthy and get him back.”
Though the Trojans scored 42 points against the Cardinal without him, Imatorbhebhe’s absence could still prove to be a significant loss to their offensive line. Last year, the tight end emerged as one of redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold’s favorite red-zone targets. He was the team’s fourth-leading receiver in 2016, racking up 250 yards with four of his 17 receptions going for touchdowns.
“He’s one of those very, very specially skilled athletes, and if they’re not 100 percent right, it’s hard,” Helton said. “So we’re going to invest in getting him
100 percent and however long that takes I really don’t have a crystal ball for.”
Junior Tyler Petite filled Imatorbhebhe’s role as starting tight end in the first two games of this season. Petite has caught six passes for 59 yards in his teammate’s absence, and he is a seasoned veteran. He appeared in all 13 games for USC in 2016, catching 10 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
In addition to Imatorbhebhe’s injury, Helton also delivered news on redshirt freshman kicker Michael Brown, who was injured on a kickoff against the Cardinal. Brown suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, meaning freshman Chase McGrath will handle both placekicking and kickoff duties for the remainder of the campaign.
The news will come as a bitter blow to Brown, who entered the preseason as the presumptive favorite to replace 2016 starter Matt Boermeester. McGrath has yet to kick a field goal in his career, but he has knocked through all 13 of his extra-point attempts.