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Injuries force a shuffling of line assignments

Times Staff Writer

Jeff Byers arrived at USC in 2004 regarded as the nation’s best high school center.

On Saturday, the oft-injured fourth-year junior will start for the first time at the position.

Senior Matt Spanos suffered a torn right triceps and will sit out the opener against Idaho and possibly more games. Byers, penciled in as the starting left guard, moves to center.

“It’s a chance to diversify my portfolio,” Byers, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, said Wednesday.

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Spanos was academically ineligible last season but appeared to have a strong training camp as Ryan Kalil’s successor at center. He was hurt Tuesday in an awkward collision with nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and Byers.

“I just felt a pop and then pain shot through my arm,” he said.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Spanos required two MRI exams on Wednesday because he was too large for the machine. “I don’t fit well into that tube,” he said.

Offensive line coach Pat Ruel said Spanos would be out one to two weeks, “or maybe five or six.”

With Byers moving to center, Alatini Malu could start at left guard for the Trojans, who are struggling to maintain five healthy starters.

Right guard Chilo Rachal sat out Wednesday because of a knee bruise but said he would play Saturday. All-American left tackle Sam Baker also will play despite a cracked rib. Back spasms recently slowed right tackle Charles Brown, and Drew Radovich, who started at left guard last season and was expected to start at right tackle, only recently returned from a back injury.

“Everybody has to play everything right now,” Coach Pete Carroll said.

Freshman Kristofer O’Dowd is backing up Byers and also has worked at guard. Carroll said sophomore Alex Parsons would begin to work at center.

Ruel said Nick Howell, a third-year sophomore who has worked at several positions as a backup, will have hernia surgery and sit out the remainder of the season.

Receiver Patrick Turner practiced lightly after sitting out most of Tuesday’s workout following a violent collision with linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Turner will play Saturday.

“My head hurt a little right after Rey hit me, but I’m fine,” Turner said.

Freshman running back Joe McKnight also has been cleared to play, Carroll said.

McKnight, wearing a long brace to protect a stretched right knee ligament, completed all drills for the first time since injuring his knee more than two weeks ago.

Former receiver Jamere Holland is scheduled to have a hearing Friday before a non-athletic department panel to appeal for a release to Oregon.

Holland, who was dismissed from the team, was not granted a release to Florida or any Pacific 10 Conference schools, according to Carroll. Troy Starr, Holland’s high school coach at Woodland Hills Taft High, is Florida’s director of football operations.

Everett Glenn, an attorney retained by Holland’s family, said the receiver “just wants the right to talk to another school in the United States to determine if there is any interest in him and if there is a scholarship available.”

Cornerback Josh Pinkard sat out the last half of practice after landing awkwardly on his leg, but he is not expected to miss time, Carroll said. . . . USC’s 2007 football schedule poster will be handed out to fans at Saturday’s game. A sellout crowd is expected.

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gary.klein@latimes.com


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