USC Trojans battle injuries in fall camp

All three starting linebackers have missed multiple practices due to injury, but linebacker is just one of several positions where the USC Trojans have concerns about depth.

The 2012 football season hasn’t even started and the USC Trojans have already had their share of injuries. USC isn’t providing injury reports during preseason camp, but numerous players have missed practice time for “unspecified” injuries.

There are still a few weeks left before the season, but injuries will continue to be a concern because the team is operating with a reduced roster as a result of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions.

The players they have are talented, and if they’re all healthy, they’re among the best in the nation, but the 75-man limit means that depth becomes a bigger and bigger issue every time someone gets hurt.

The most recent loss is freshman defensive end De’Vante Wilson, who will miss the upcoming season with a torn ACL in his left knee. It’s the second straight season a knee injury will keep Wilson off the field. He had surgery to repair his right ACL last year and waited until January to enroll at USC to preserve his eligibility. Because this is Wilson’s first official season with the team, he’ll redshirt and have four years of eligibility remaining.

It’s been a rough preseason for defensive ends. Junior Devon Kennard, a key piece of the defense, tore his pectoral muscle two weeks ago and will likely miss the entire season.

J.R. Tavai, who slid over to defensive end to replace Kennard, missed several practices but returned Wednesday morning. Greg Townsend, Jr. had been lining up behind Tavai on the left end, but he also missed several practices and was spotted at practice with a walking boot on his right foot on Wednesday. Defensive end Wes Horton was out Wednesday with an injury as well.

An even bigger concern is at linebacker, where all three starters were out for three consecutive practices due to injuries.

Sophomore Lamar Dawson has been out since last Friday with a pulled calf. The emergency plan, if Dawson was injured during the season, was to shift Hayes Pullard to middle linebacker, but Pullard has been out all week as well, reportedly with an ankle injury.

USC’s third starting linebacker, Dion Bailey, also missed time with an unspecified injury; different sources speculated it was an ankle, wrist, or shoulder, but it seemed to be minor, because Bailey was back Wednesday afternoon, wearing a non-contact jersey.

Another big injury concern is at left tackle, where sophomore Aundrey Walker is expected to replace first-round draft pick Matt Kalil. Walker, however, has missed a considerable chunk of the fall practices to date due to a right wrist injury. He returned on a limited basis wearing a brace, while true freshman Max Tuerk continued taking snaps at left tackle during full-team drills.

Tuerk has impressed the coaching staff so far this fall, and coaches named him the freshman most ready to start, but they can’t be especially thrilled about the prospect of a true freshman in charge of protecting Matt Barkley’s blind side. The OC Register reported that while Kevin Graf could move from right tackle to left, the right side of the line has been so solid that they don’t want to shake things unless absolutely necessary.

While some positions have become even thinner during fall workouts, there has been some good news on the injury front for the offense.

Wide receiver George Farmer, who missed most of the first week with an aggravated hamstring injury, returned on Tuesday and said he felt 100%. He’ll need to kick it up to about 150% if he wants to overtake De’Von Flournoy for the third receiver spot. Farmer lost ground when he missed most of spring workouts with the same injury, while Flournoy, who has been in the system longer, continues to have the best camp of his USC career.

Junior wide receiver Robert Woods has returned from ankle surgery and since he started at full strength partway through the first week of camp, his ankle hasn’t been a concern. Sophomore wideout Marqise Lee has sported a non-contact jersey during some of the workouts, but it doesn’t seem to be injury-related. The Orange County Register‘s USC blog reported that Lee made several catches while sporting the jersey “like a Superman cape.”