Cornerback Shareece Wright will be forced to sit out for the season because of academic ineligibility, coach Pete Carroll announced on USC’s website an hour after practice Monday.
“Shareece didn’t get it done,” Carroll said. “He didn’t get the GPA he needed to get.”
Carroll told reporters immediately following practice that Wright was nursing a knee injury and that he didn’t expect the corner to play in USC’s season opener Saturday against San Jose State at the Coliseum. About an hour later, the news that Wright would in fact miss the entire season was released.
Senior Josh Pinkard will move from safety to cornerback to fill in for Wright. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Pinkard returned to USC for his sixth year of eligibility in 2009 hoping to play safety full time. But late last week, Carroll made the decision to move Pinkard back to cornerback, a position where the senior started 11 games last season, because the coach was unsure whether Wright would be ready for the start of the season.
“I think if [Pinkard] had his way, he would like to play all the time at safety,” Carroll said after practice, before Wright’s ineligibility was announced. “But more importantly, he wants to play all the time. And the rotation with the other guys, he wasn’t going to get to play all the time.”
Senior Will Harris will start alongside senior Taylor Mays at the safety positions.
“It kind of worked out for both [Pinkard and Harris],” Carroll said. “Will has had a great camp and has played like a starter all throughout camp … They’ll both have a chance to be full-time players.”
Because of Pinkard’s size and strength at the corner position, Carroll now has extra options in calling plays for his defense. Just like he did last season, Carroll plans on using Pinkard’s ability to mix up his defensive schemes and attacks.
“We’ve incorporated some stuff,” Carroll said. “He plays nickel[back] too, where he can blitz and cover slots and do a lot of cool stuff in there. He’s such a versatile football player that we do utilize him in a unique way.”
Junior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, who is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a broken collarbone he suffered during Saturday’s scrimmage, will be in a harness for about a week to avoid surgery.
“He’s real uncomfortable right now and will be for another week or so,” Carroll said. “But he’s ready to work his way back and battle back from it.”
With Johnson out, redshirt junior Damian Williams will start Saturday at the flanker position, where Johnson had been slated to start, and redshirt junior David Ausberry will move into the starting lineup at split end, the position vacated by Williams. Still, coaches are looking toward other receivers to step up in Johnson’s absence.
“We’re losing a guy that had the big playmaking ability and the deep-threat speed and toughness that he showed,” said receivers coach John Morton. “But all the rest of the receivers have got the same thing. Now, guys have to step up and play [Johnson’s] role.”
Two likely candidates to get more playing time due to Johnson’s injury are redshirt freshman Brice Butler, who had four catches for 66 yards during Saturday’s scrimmage, and freshman De’Von Flournoy.
Redshirt junior C.J. Gable and redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal will return kickoffs for the Trojans. Before his injury, Johnson was expected to figure into the mix alongside Gable.
Williams and junior tailback Joe McKnight will handle punt returns, with Williams getting the nod ahead of McKnight because Carroll has been very impressed with the receiver’s security in catching the football and his playmaking ability after he makes the catch.
“After he catches, we want to see what he can do back there,” Carroll said of Williams. “Joe’s definitely in it. Joe’s had a great camp at catching the football. And we want both guys to return punts.”
Redshirt junior Billy O’Malley will be the starting punter, junior Jacob Harfman will kickoff and redshirt senior Jordan Congdon will do the placekicking.