LOS ANGELES — When USC returned to practice Tuesday afternoon, Michael Pittman paced the Howard Jones Field sidelines in sweatpants, not pads.
At one point, Pittman went through shoulder stretching exercises with Coach Clay Helton.
Pittman, the Trojans’ leading receiver through their first nine games, was sidelined with a bone bruise in his shoulder and is increasingly doubtful to play against Cal on Saturday.
“It’s going to be hard unless it improves really fast,” Helton said. “There will be a better chance the following week.”
Without Pittman, the offense was prompted to reshuffle its receiving corps. Helton said the Trojans planned to start freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown as the outside receiver opposite Tyler Vaughns, leaving Velus Jones as the starting slot receiver.
Pittman injured his shoulder in last week’s win at Oregon State when he made a hard landing while attempting to catch a deep pass from quarterback JT Daniels.
In nine games, the 6-foot-4 Pittman has 27 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns, emerging as a big-play threat and tall target for Daniels. No other USC receiver has caught more than three touchdowns this season.
Freshman Devon Williams filled in for Pittman for stretches against Oregon State and caught his first career pass, followed by his first career touchdown grab.
Helton said Williams and Josh Imatorbhebhe were other options at outside receiver, with Trevon Sidney backing up Jones.
“We got a true two-deep,” Helton said, “and I feel confident in our six kids to step up and make plays.”
HARRIS STAYING AT SAFETY
Nickel corner Ajene Harris will continue to start at strong safety, a position he played for the past two games, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said.
Harris initially started at safety when Marvell Tell was sidelined against Arizona State on Oct. 27, then again at Oregon State after Talanoa Hufanga suffered a broken collarbone. Without Hufanga, the team was left with only two healthy scholarship safeties, Tell and C.J. Pollard.
Pendergast said he preferred to keep Harris at safety in order for the Trojans to use Pollard as a backup.
“If something were to happen to any of the two safeties, the next guy is C.J.,” Pendergast said. “So instead of having C.J. out there full-time, it’s kind of better to have him in a backup role and he can go in there if something happens.”
Jonathan Lockett starts at nickel corner in place of Harris.
GOING TO THE POLLS
With the U.S. midterm elections held Tuesday, Helton said he and other coaches spoke with players about registering to vote.
“We do have those discussions with our team about having the availability to practice the greatest thing in the world, which is our freedom and our right to vote,” Helton said. “There’s a lot of men and women who have fought for us to provide our freedom and the honor to be able to vote. It is a topic of discussion and opportunity for our kids to be able to go out there. And I hope they all take that opportunity.”
Helton said special teams coach John Baxter was wearing an “I Voted” sticker on Tuesday.
Among other starters out with injuries, cornerback Iman Marshall did not practice Tuesday because of a sprained ankle, though has told Helton he is aiming to play against Cal. Helton said Marshall will be evaluated later in the week. … Cornerback Olaijah Griffin, who has been out with a shoulder injury, returned to practice and saw first-team reps opposite Isaiah Langley. … Running back Stephen Carr is expected to miss Saturday’s game against Cal because of a high ankle sprain and might be out “at least a couple weeks,” Helton said. … Backup quarterback Matt Fink, who has missed the past two games due to broken ribs, has started throwing passes in practice. … USC athletic director Lynn Swann attended practice Tuesday.
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