USC's secondary shuffle went from temporary to permanent on Monday after starting cornerback Shareece Wright was declared academically ineligible.
Wright's status had been in doubt throughout training camp, forcing Josh Pinkard to move from safety to cornerback for last weekend's mock game at the Coliseum.
Wright is the third projected starter lost by a defense that is in transition following the departures of several key players from the 2008 unit to the NFL. Defensive end Armond Armstead suffered a broken bone in his left foot on Aug. 20 and is expected to be sidelined at least five more weeks. Defensive tackle Averell Spicer is recovering from an ankle sprain that will probably keep him out of Saturday's opener against San Jose State.
This is the second consecutive season that Pinkard has moved to cornerback to replace Wright, who early in the 2008 season suffered a neck injury that forced him to redshirt.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Pinkard returned to USC for a sixth season so he could play safety, where he is more projectable to NFL teams.
"Definitely, that's why I came back," Pinkard said of playing safety. "But you've got to do what's best for the team."
With Pinkard switching to cornerback opposite Kevin Thomas, Taylor Mays and Will Harris are the starting safeties.
Coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that Pinkard's plan had been sidetracked.
"If he had his way, he would like to play all the time at safety, but more important he wants to play all the time," Carroll said. "And in the rotation with the other guys he wouldn't."
Wright, a fourth-year junior, did not achieve a grade-point average high enough to compete for the Trojans in the fall, Carroll said.
Wright arrived late to practice on Monday and participated in only a few drills. He did not return phone calls seeking comment following the school's announcement of his ineligibility about 30 minutes after the workout.
Wright will be allowed to practice with the team, a school official said.
His ineligibility is the latest in a string of setbacks for the former Colton High star. Wright started the first two games last season before he was injured.
In July, Wright pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disturbing the peace for an incident that occurred at a party in Colton in September 2008. He originally had been charged with felony resisting a police officer.
Wright was ordered to pay a $456 fine and perform 200 hours of community service. Once he completes the community service, the charge will be reduced to an infraction.
Trojans running back Allen Bradford, a former Colton High teammate, said he had spoken to Wright.
"He wasn't too happy with himself," Bradford said. "He knows what he's got to do -- he's got to take care of school work."
Receiver Damian Williams will be the starting punt return specialist with Joe McKnight also handling kicks, Carroll said.
Williams returned punts in high school and was a backup at Arkansas in 2006.
C.J. Gable will return kickoffs along with redshirt freshman Curtis McNeal, who moved up the depth chart after Ronald Johnson suffered a broken collarbone in Saturday's mock game.
Walk-on Billy O'Malley beat out junior college transfer Jake Harfman for the starting punter job. Harfman will handle kickoffs.
Matt Barkley took nearly all of the first-team snaps and remains on track to become the first true freshman to start an opener at quarterback for the Trojans. . . . Quarterback Mitch Mustain returned to practice after missing two of the last three because of flu. USC did not make quarterbacks available to the media. . . . Center Kristofer O'Dowd (kneecap) said he would not be back for the opener but was confident he would be ready for the Ohio State game on Sept. 12.