USC cornerback Josh Pinkard breaks up a pass intended for Oregon State receiver… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
USC utilizes early bowl-game practices to ready young players for possible starting roles the following season.
On Sunday, a starting opportunity came early when Coach Pete Carroll announced that senior cornerback Josh Pinkard would not play in the Dec. 26 Emerald Bowl against Boston College because of a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale against Arizona.
T.J. Bryant, Shareece Wright and Brian Baucham are the leading candidates to replace Pinkard.
"It's a tough break for Josh," defensive coordinator Rocky Seto said. "Now, we'll see how the other guys respond."
Bryant, a 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., has been playing as the nickel back and on special teams.
Wright, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior from Colton, was academically ineligible this season but could play in the bowl game pending the posting of fall-semester grades.
Wright began the 2008 season as a starter but suffered a neck injury and was forced to redshirt. His situation caused Carroll to move Pinkard from safety to cornerback, a move that was repeated this season when Wright was declared ineligible.
Baucham, a 5-11, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Torrance, practiced Sunday for the first time in weeks. He was playing as the third cornerback early in the season, but he suffered several injuries, including burns and a foot fracture sustained in a motorcycle accident.
The competition will continue Wednesday when the Trojans resume practice.
Tailback C.J. Gable, who started 12 games in 2008 but was buried on the depth chart this season, impressed during the Trojans' second workout.
"He was the best guy on the field today," Carroll said.
Whether that's enough to warrant much playing time for the junior against Boston College remains to be seen.
Gable has only 21 carries. He is frustrated, but continues to display the poise he has exhibited throughout the season when discussing his situation.
Gable, who is on track to graduate next fall, plans to speak with Carroll after the bowl game before deciding whether to return for a fifth year or turn pro.
In the past, Gable said he "was making dumb decisions off when I was angry."
"Now I'm thinking clearly," he said. "I think it's more important to graduate because football doesn't last forever for me. So that's what I'm really thinking about now."
Damian Williams was announced as the Trojans' most valuable player at the team's awards banquet at Club Nokia. Tailback Stafon Johnson, who suffered a season-ending throat injury in a September weightlifting accident, was selected most inspirational player. . . . Special teams standout Garrett Green is scheduled to have January surgery to repair a torn knee ligament, but the senior practiced after being cleared to handle holding duties on field goals and extra points. . . . Receiver David Ausberry, who was sidelined for much of the second half of the season because of stress fractures in his leg, worked out for the second day and said he hoped to play in the Emerald Bowl.