Tuesday’s USC practice featured the return of wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr., some new injury concerns for the defensive line and some ins and outs at the running back position. But first, head coach Clay Helton took time at the top of his post-practice remarks to comment on the passing of USC legend Sam “Bam” Cunningham.
“Obviously a sad day for our Trojan family and college football,” Helton said. “To lose a legend like Sam Cunningham is a very sad deal. Legend in our game and a legend of a man. I’ve really appreciated having a relationship with him. His love for USC and our love for him – wish nothing but the best to his family.”
The All-American fullback at USC was a first-round NFL draft pick of the New England Patriots. Cunningham had more than a few standout performances, but two likely shine brighter for many Trojan fans. In 1970, Cunningham rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win at Alabama that helped shape Alabama and SEC football. And in the 1973 Rose Bowl, Cunningham scored four second-half touchdowns to help USC to a 42-17 win against Ohio State, capping off an undefeated 1972 season for the Trojans.
Gary Bryant’s back on field
Wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. continues to make his way back to the practice field after missing extensive time due to a hamstring injury. Helton said Tuesday was Bryant’s fourth day of work in a row and they will continue monitoring him through the week.
“He felt really good today,” Helton said. “Looked like nothing wrong conditioning-wise.”
Bryant participated in about 75% of the practice, according to Helton.
“I know he’s fired up to have a chance to play in this game,” Helton said. “That’s his mindset and that usually means, as long as we don’t have a setback, he’ll be ready.”
It took all of one rep in one-on-ones to see that Bryant is ready to go. He caught touchdowns on at least three reps in a row on a variety of moves.
Defensive line injuries
Defensive end Nick Figueroa did not practice on Tuesday. He suffered an AC sprain on Saturday and will continue to rehab his shoulder this week. Helton said Figueroa has “progressed nicely” the past two days.
Fellow defensive lineman Jake Lichtenstein left practice on Tuesday and Helton said he, too, suffered an AC sprain.
Lichtenstein underwent an X-Ray out of an abundance of caution but Helton said it was negative.
Neither has been ruled out for Saturday, but there’s a chance things could fall to Tuli Tuipulotu and Korey Foreman.
“If he can’t go, then Tuli and Korey will have to hold that position down,” Helton said, referencing Figueroa’s potential absence.
Running back situation
Keaontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai delivered a strong message that they are capable of handling the rushing load for the Trojans. But USC could have Darwin Barlow back in the fold Saturday, which would be a very good thing for that position group.
“He’s close,” Helton said of Barlow, who has been dealing with a hamstring issue.
Helton said Barlow typically runs at above 20 miles per hour and he was a little above 19 miles per hour yesterday.
“We’ll go through the week and see where he’s at,” Helton said.
It might be especially important to get Barlow back because USC was without Kenan Christon and Brandon Campbell during Tuesday’s practice. Helton said Campbell was sick and Christon was not available for team activities.
Bryant Jr.’s first impression was a deep ball touchdown from Miller Moss over coverage from Calen Bullock.
Kedon Slovis and Drake London hooked up on a one-on-one touchdown against Chris Steele.
John Jackson III made a nice move to get wide open heading outside for an easy touchdown.
It was a nice day overall for the wide receivers during one-on-one work.
Xavion Alford had a nice pass deflection during seven-on-sevens.
Jaxson Dart found Kyle Ford on a deep ball.
Drake Jackson was dealing with a thigh contusion during the San Jose State game. Helton said Jackson was running around okay on Monday and that looked to be the case on Tuesday. There was a play during scout team work where Jackson seemed to get up to top speed pretty quickly and easily in order to chase a running back to the sideline.
It can be difficult to tell who’s who when the scout team jerseys go on, but using an educated guess, it looked like Kyron Ware-Hudson made a really nice grab, going up against coverage to bring it down.
Neither safety Isaiah Pola-Mao nor defensive tackle Kobe Pepe were in attendance. Both missed Saturday’s game due to health and safety protocols. Helton has said they are hoping to get Pola-Mao back later in the week. Calen Bullock continued to run with the first team at free safety.