With USC’s Sept. 3 season opener against Minnesota looming, many position battles remain unsettled, namely the race to nab the currently vacant No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite sophomore wideout Robert Woods.
That position, however, won’t be occupied by sophomore wide receiver Markeith Ambles.
USC coach Lane Kiffin announced Tuesday that Ambles, who was ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester, had withdrawn from school and would transfer to a community college, where he will play football and baseball. The former five-star recruit would also be eligible to play immediately.
“Markeith is no longer with our program,” Kiffin said. “We wish him the best of luck and we’re moving forward and hopefully he does good things.
But even with Ambles’ departure, the Trojans’ offense still has plenty of depth at the wide receiver position, which includes a talented pair of freshmen wideouts: George Farmer and Marquise Lee.
Farmer and Lee, as did Woods, attended Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., and have impressed coaches this spring, particularly Lee.
As a result of his play, Lee was allowed by the coaching staff to switch from No. 17 to No. 9 Tuesday.
“To No. 1, you have to work for it” he said. “I talked to the coach and he said I have to work hard for it.”
Lee’s quick adjustment, which has been similar to Woods from last season, has been attributed to his effort to mirror Woods.
“I study him all the time, just like all the other receivers,” Lee said. “It’s not just Robert, but it’s a lot of other receivers I pay attention to. They help me on my plays and make sure I know my stuff.”
Kiffin announced freshman tight end Junior Pomee would miss the entire season after he sustained a broken foot during Sunday’s scrimmage.
“I thought he was doing great for the little time we had him,” Kiffin said. “So we’re excited about getting him through rehab and ready for the spring.”
Because of Pomee’s injury, senior linebacker Ross Cumming and senior defensive end Zack Kusnir have switched to offense to fill the tight end position.
Though the Trojans lost one player, redshirt freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins returned to the practice field after missing five days because of torn ligaments in his throwing thumb sustained during a scrimmage.
“Hopefully he’ll be back [practicing] soon,” Kiffin said. “But it is good to have him back in meetings.”
Others, including sophomore wide receiver De’Von Flournoy, senior safety Marshall Jones and sophomore tight end Christian Thomas, did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. During practice, senior quarterback Taylor Ashton, redshirt freshman linebacker Dion Bailey, junior tailback Curtis McNeal and redshirt freshman wide receiver Kyle Prater were sidelined, but Kiffin noted the injuries were minor.
With the race for the No. 2 quarterback spot still ongoing, Kiffin made a point to acknowledge the strong play from freshmen signal callers Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. Though they have at times struggled with interceptions and adjusting to the speed of the college, the staff has admitted either should be able to shoulder the load should junior quarterback Matt Barkley be sidelined with an injury.
“I think both of them could go in and play for us right now” Kiffin said. “I’m shocked I’m even saying that.”
The defense continued its strong play, forcing a number of sacks and incomplete passes during Tuesday’s mock scrimmage. Senior linebacker Chris Galippo returned to practice following a shoulder injury and has had to battle freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson to maintain his stranglehold on the starting position.
“I’m feeling decent, but I can do better,” said Dawson, who was awarded the coveted No. 55 jersey last spring. “There’s a lot of tradition. There’s a lot of pressure for me, but I got to live up to the number. I’m steppin’ up to the challenges.”
As of right now, no position battles have been settled, according to Kiffin. For the remainder of the week, players will continue with normal practice before preparation for the season opener against Minnesota begins closer to the weekend.