As USC begins game-week preparations for its opener against San Jose State, the Trojans receiving corps is on the spot.
The broken collarbone suffered by Ronald Johnson in a mock game last weekend at the Coliseum caused a shuffle that moves David Ausberry into the starting lineup and elevates several players into contention for playing time on Saturday at the Coliseum.
Johnson, who is expected to be sidelined at least six weeks, was a speedy deep threat, a player who could stretch the field for strong-armed freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.
At 6 feet 4 and 235 pounds, Ausberry is a larger target, but not as quick. The fourth-year junior from Lemoore, Calif., started five games in 2007 but was a backup last season and caught six passes.
"I know how to play football -- I'll be all right," said Ausberry, who will start opposite senior Damian Williams.
Redshirt freshman Brice Butler, freshman De'Von Flournoy, junior Travon Patterson, sophomore Brandon Carswell and junior Jordan Cameron are competing to become the third receiver.
"I'm ready for it," said Butler. "When I came last year, I wasn't ready at all. Now, I feel like I'm more mature. I know the offense a lot better."
Flournoy made dynamic plays throughout training camp, but has acknowledged being challenged to completely understand the offense.
"He's got really good quickness and explosiveness and had no problem catching the football," Coach Pete Carroll said. "He's behind, though, in the learning process. . . . We've got to accelerate that and fill that void."
Patterson caught three passes last season and finally appears healthy after several seasons battling injuries.
Carswell and Cameron have experience in the system.
"We'll be OK," Williams said.
It looks as if this might be the season tailback Allen Bradford finally gets his chance. The fourth-year junior impressed in two scrimmages at the Coliseum during training camp and appears set to join the backfield rotation.
"I think this is going to be the year everybody's been waiting for," Bradford said after gaining 37 yards in five carries during Saturday's mock game.
Bradford has shown no ill effects from the hip surgery that forced him to redshirt last season.
"Allen's going to be a factor for us," Carroll said.
With junior Everson Griffen starting ahead of him, freshman defensive end Devon Kennard might not receive a huge amount of playing time.
But Kennard confidently begins preparations for San Jose State after tipping a Barkley pass that led to an interception in the mock game.
"I was just trying to end with a bang," Kennard said. "It was the last chance to show what I could do before the season started."
Offensive lineman Nick Howell (ankle) and defensive tackle Averell Spicer (ankle) are expected to return today. . . . Quarterback Mitch Mustain, who missed two of the last three practices because of illness, also is expected to return.