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USC Sports

USC football, a week from season opener, has a question mark at left tackle

Chad Wheeler
USC tackle Chad Wheeler is still dealing with a sore foot a week before the season opener.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

There’s less than a week until USC plays Alabama in a season opener and Trojans Coach Clay Helton remains uncertain who he will start at left tackle.

Fifth-year senior Chad Wheeler has been slowed or sidelined for nearly three weeks because of plantar fasciitis, an injury to the soft tissue along the bottom of his foot.

Wheeler “tried to go today and had a little pain” Helton said Saturday after the team held a 50-play situational scrimmage, which was closed to the media. 

“[He’s] just not quite there yet right now. He’s getting better but at this point in time, not 100%,” Helton said. 

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Sophomore Chuma Edoga has stepped in at left tackle. Edoga made two starts at right tackle last season when Zach Banner was moved to the left side as a fill-in.

The decision to move Edoga into the left tackle role this fall instead of Banner, a fifth-year senior, was based on Banner’s comfort level on the right side. “We’d like to keep Zach in a stationary point,” Helton said. 

Helton will determine on Tuesday who will start against Alabama. 

“By that time I’m going to kind of have to say, ‘This is the way we’re going to start’ and see how the week progresses,” Helton said. 

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He did not rule out the possibility that Wheeler could contribute off the bench if he was healthy. 

Redshirt freshman Clayton Johnston and freshman E.J. Price also are listed as backups at the position.

Mock game

The Trojans spent the last two days holding a dress rehearsal in Los Angeles for their opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The team spent Friday night holding meetings and a walk-through in a hotel before riding buses to a local field for a scrimmage. 

“We tried to make it the most realistic thing as you could, exactly like they’re going to get next week,” Helton said. 

The offense and defense ran 40 plays and special teams ran 10 plays, Helton said. 

Quarterback Max Browne,  who was named the starter last week, took most of the snaps and the remainder went to backup Sam Darnold. 

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“Max did a nice job from a decision making [standpoint] - he got the ball to the right place and didn’t make a critical error,” Helton said. 

Crimson Tide quarterbacks

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has yet to name a starting quarterback and if past competitions are any indication, his decision will remain unknown until the Crimson Tide takes the field.

Saban has been so secretive about the competition that he wouldn’t even reveal to local reporters if he was thinking about playing two quarterbacks.

Fourth-year junior Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and freshman Jalen Hurts are battling for the position.

Bateman was considered the favorite entering camp, but Barnett, a highly-sought recruit from Corona Santiago High, and Hurts also have impressed.

USC’s defense will rely on their own quarterbacks to prepare for a starter with minimal or no college experience. 

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“We’ve got a good situation because when you look at a Max Browne you kind of think Cooper Bateman, in the aspect of being a pocket passer. Then you’ve got a great athlete and thrower in Sam that could be a Barnett or a Jalen Hurts,” Helton said.

Quick hits

Safety Marvell Tell III (hamstring)  should be available to practice this week, Helton said. … USC is not scheduled to practice Sunday or Monday and will begin game-week practices Tuesday.

lindsey.thiry@latimes.com

Twitter: @LindseyThiry


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