Following last week’s bye, the No. 6 USC Trojans are on pace to get back two familiar faces on both sides of the ball this week as the team prepares for another tough road game in South Bend, Ind., against No. 25 Notre Dame.
Junior receiver Ronald Johnson and sophomore defensive end Armond Armstead made considerable strides in practice Monday that led coach Pete Carroll to believe both will be available come Saturday’s contest.
Both players suffered injuries in late August and were sidelined for roughly six weeks. Armstead returned to practice last week after breaking his left foot Aug. 20 during a morning practice, and Johnson — who first began practicing last Tuesday and participated in the Trojans’ weekend scrimmage — is getting more reps every day as he continues to recover from a broken collarbone he suffered during an Aug. 29 preseason scrimmage.
“It was great that they practiced,” Carroll said. “Armond got a lot of work [Monday]. I put him in a couple spots, and he made it through feeling good, so that’s terrific. Ronald’s back in there. He’s ready to play.”
Carroll said barring an unexpected setback later this week, both players should see be able to jump back on the field in South Bend. However, he wouldn’t comment on how much playing time either player would receive.
While it’s possible Armstead could fill a number of spots on a suddenly injury-ridden USC defensive line, Johnson’s role may not be as large as it was before his injury.
“Right now I’d be thrilled if he plays a lot,” Carroll said. “That’d be great. I don’t care about starting. That’s not a concern at all. It’s just if we can get him in the game plan, and he can contribute and get him playing football again.”
Armstead and Johnson said they’re both ready to get back on the field and help out any way they can for the Trojans.
“Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’m comfortable playing [any position],” Armstead said. “I feel like they’ll get me ready by game time.”
Johnson admitted the coaches would probably take a “conservative” approach with him this weekend, but it all depends on how he practices the rest of the week. He said he is looking forward to being back on the field again, even if his playing time is limited.
“I’m just happy I’m out here,” he said. “I’m just excited to be out here, back again and ready to work hard.”
Johnson’s speed also provides freshman quarterback Matt Barkley with a deep-option receiver other than redshirt junior receiver Damian Williams. Johnson was the Trojans’ third-leading receiver last season with 33 catches for 570 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I just think I will scare the defense a little bit more,” he said. “They have to play honest as far as the run and the pass. So I feel I bring the deep threat.”
Although Johnson will get some time as receiver Saturday, Carroll said the junior will not return kickoffs, as Johnson had done during the past two seasons for USC.
“I think we’ll just wait on that one a little bit,” Carroll said. “We’ve got other guys who are doing a nice job back there, and C.J. [Gable]’s a terrific kickoff returner, so we’ll keep that out of [Johnson’s] duties right now.”