Chad Wheeler walked onto USC’s practice field on Tuesday wearing a jersey empty of shoulder pads and a boot on his foot.
Wheeler, USC’s left tackle, has not practiced since a brief return on Wednesday. He has been hobbled by plantar fasciitis, an injury to the the bottom of his foot.
His return is not imminent. Wheeler recently received an injection of platelet-rich plasma, a therapy that has become trendy among baseball pitchers. USC hopes the treatment will speed Wheeler’s recovery, but it also means he’ll be sidelined for at least another week.
“We’ll see where it is on Tuesday,” Coach Clay Helton said. “I don’t see him doing anything until Tuesday. We’ll be able to reevaluate where he’s at.”
Helton has typically shifted Zach Banner from right to left tackle in Wheeler’s absence. On Tuesday, Chuma Edoga started at left tackle, and Banner remained on the other side.
“I always believe in practicing worst-case scenarios,” Helton said. “Last year, I never anticipated getting to the fourth center. Thank God we practiced four centers.”
Another contingency plan would shift reserve guard Jordan Simmons or Chris Brown, who is fighting for the starting left guard job, to tackle, according to Helton. Both played the position in high school.
Helton hopes to avoid such a shuffle, but he added Wheeler’s injury could continue to nag.
“Just being honest, I think it’s something we’re going to have to monitor through the season,” Helton said.
Browne bounces back
Quarterback Max Browne had to run up the Coliseum tunnel after USC’s scrimmage on Monday so he could arrive on time for a final class presentation. He was probably happy to escape as quickly as possible.
“To be brutally honest, yesterday was probably my worst practice,” Browne said Tuesday.
The competition between Browne and Sam Darnold has not produced a clear favorite three practices away from Saturday, the day Helton has said he would name a starter. Browne began assembling a final argument on Tuesday, when he followed one of his worst practices with one of his cleanest.
The highlight came on a delicate 25-yard touchdown lob to Jalen Greene in full-team drills, but Browne played efficiently throughout Tuesday’s practice.
“That scrimmage didn’t go well at times for me, but I feel like all in all, camp as a whole, I feel like I’m playing good ball, and that’s, shoot, all I can control,” Browne said.
Helton said he appreciated Browne’s ability to bounce back, and he provided a road map for how Browne can win the job.
“That’s what experienced quarterbacks do,” Helton said. “I want him to put a string of those together as we go through the week.”
Noah Jefferson lined up in a three-point stance and launched himself into a teammate early in Tuesday’s practice. For the first time this training camp, Jefferson had returned for individual drills.
Jefferson has been out with a back injury, but a clean MRI exam last week led to Jefferson’s limited return. He still did not participate in team drills, and USC will continue to handle him with caution.
“We’ll see where it’s at, let the doctors say what we need to do next,” Helton said. “But we’re really hoping to transition him into just a couple plays in team as we go through the week.”
Jefferson, who was not available to reporters, reported during the session that his back felt good, Helton said.
A crisper practice, compared to Monday’s messy scrimmage, lifted spirits on Tuesday.
Helton walked to his news conference humming to himself. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson attempted field goals, while Helton held. (Jackson finished zero for two.)
The team was treated to shaved ice, a training camp ritual. Left tackle Zach Banner, who has shaved 40 pounds in the off-season, sneaked back for seconds. He was discovered by Helton from across the field.
“What are you doing?” Helton said.
“Coach, I dropped mine,” Banner bellowed, for the benefit of bystanders. “It’s senior year, let me be.”
Offensive lineman Cole Smith (stomach illness), safety Ykili Ross (stomach illness) and linebacker Quinton Powell (neck sprain) did not practice. … Tight end Taylor McNamara (shoulder) left practice.