Michael Pittman Jr. stood off to the side during a scrimmage at USC football practice Tuesday, with black sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt under his jersey instead of football pads.
Pittman did not participate in practice, sidelined with a shoulder injury he sustained in USC’s win over Oregon State. He is unlikely to play against California on Saturday, coach Clay Helton said.
“I think it’s gonna be hard,” Helton said. “Unless it improves really fast. Probably a better chance the following week.”
Helton said freshman Amon-ra St. Brown would join redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns on the outside to replace Pittman at receiver, since St. Brown has experience in that position. Redshirt sophomore Velus Jones Jr. would play inside.
Freshman Devon Williams and redshirt sophomore Josh Imatorbhebhe would back them up on the outside with redshirt sophomore Trevon Sidney on the inside.
JT Daniels lost his prime target in Pittman, who averaged 117.3 receiving yards in the three games leading up to Oregon State, with five touchdowns in that span.
Williams took Pittman’s place against Oregon State by recording a career-high 77 receiving yards and his first career touchdown. Williams had never caught a pass at the college level before that game.
“Trevon, Devon and Josh are really the biggest names that are gonna have to step up and fill a roll,” Daniels said, “but I’m sure they’ll be ready for it.”
Daniels might have lost his prime target on the field, but Williams hardly felt Pittman’s absence in the first practice this season where he could only watch.
Because Pittman is not entirely gone.
“He’s Coach Pitt right now,” Williams said.
Pittman has embraced his new role. He stood by the receivers during drills and doled out instructions to help Williams and other less experienced players perfect details, like alignment against the defensive back, as they prepare to fill the hole his injury left.
“He brings the same excitement, the same energy,” Williams said. “Everything else is there.”
Running back Stephen Carr was not at practice Tuesday after sustaining a high ankle sprain that Helton said would probably sideline him against Cal. Carr earned 49 yards in six carries with a touchdown before exiting the game against Oregon Statte.
Carr’s absence gave extra reps to Aca’Cedric Ware and the rest of the running back group. Ware enjoyed the extra carries but said practice was not the same without his friend.
“It’s been pretty boring,” Ware said.
Carr would crack jokes through practice that kept Ware entertained. In a running back environment that thrives on competition, Carr brought a level of energy that challenged Ware and the other running backs, driving Ware to perform in practice.
“All the running backs feed off each other in practice,”Ware said. “We’re missing Stephen out here.”
Iman Marshall status uncertain
Cornerback Iman Marshall shouted instructions to the healthy cornerbacks Tuesday, as he stood aside without pads, sidelined with a sprained ankle.
“Biggie tells me, ‘Coach, I’m playing,’” Helton said.
But the nature of his injury — an ankle sprain on the inside of his foot that he sustained against Oregon State — makes Helton uncertain. He said he would monitor Marshall’s condition closely, but would not know his status for Saturday until the end of the week.
“Those two kids wanna play so bad it’s unbelievable,” said Helton, referring to Pittman and Marshall. “But we’re gonna do right by them and make sure they’re healthy and ready to go out there.”
Helton said in honor of Tuesday’s Election Day, he had conversations with his players about carving out the time to exercise their right to vote.
Special teams coordinator John Baxter showed up in the morning wearing an “I Voted” sticker, setting an example for his team.
“There’s a lot of young men and women that have fought for us to provide our freedom and the honor to be able to vote, so it is a topic of discussion,” Helton said, later adding: “I hope they all take that opportunity.”
Cornerback Olaijah Griffin (shoulder), wide receiver Chase Williams (knee) and linebacker Levi Jones (hip pointer) practiced Tuesday. Helton said he would monitor Griffin in hopes he could return by Saturday. Backup quarterback Matt Fink (ribs) threw passes Tuesday but is not yet cleared to take hits. Cornerback Greg Johnson (shoulder) was out, along with outside linebacker Juliano Falaniko (concussion).