USC Wideout Ronald Johnson Breaks Collarbone, Out 6-8 Weeks
That's because with USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, Carroll expected opposing defenses to put together a variety of coverages to slow down the Trojans' top returning wideout, All-American candidate Damian Williams. This in turn, would leave Johnson with plenty of opportunities to display his versatile skills at flanker for the Trojans' newlook offense.
Well, this game plan changed with one play on Saturday when Johnson suffered a broken collarbone in USC's mock-game scrimmage at the Coliseum.
Johnson, the Trojans' third-leading receiver last season with 33 catches for 570 yards and eight touchdowns, will be sidelined six to eight weeks.
"I just hope that [Johnson] can get back as soon as possible," said USC freshman Matt Barkley, who was named the team's starting quarterback earlier in the week.
Johnson, regarded as the top deep threat in USC's passing game, had two catches for 54 yards before being injured on Saturday.
"This is just a crusher for RoJo and for us as well," Carroll said about Johnson, who also has been USC's leaning kickoff returner over the last two seasons. "It's going to be a situation where the opportunity opens for some adjustments here."
Once Johnson went down, USC moved Williams from split end to flanker with junior David Ausberry stepping in to fill Williams' role.
"Ausberry now becomes our starting X [receiver] and Damian goes back to playing Z [receiver], which is not a big deal for us since Damian has done that throughout his time with us," Carroll said.
"It does create an opportunity for David to take on a bigger role in the offense."
A challenge Ausberry, a 6'5" 235-pound junior, said he's more than ready to take on.
"All I can do is keep working hard and that's what I've always done," said Ausberry, USC's most physical wideout who grabbed 26 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns last season. "It would be out of character for me to do anything else."
Johnson's injury also moves other players into picture as they take on new roles in USC's passing offense. The two wide receivers who got the longest looks on Saturday where redshirt freshman Brice Butler and true freshman De'Von Flournoy.
After Johnson was sidelined, "the first thing that you noticed is how the ball starting going to Brice Butler and we wanted to see De'Von Flournoy out there," Carroll said. "We have to see how the fit in in this whole thing ... they are really going to have to step up."
Butler finished the mock-game scrimmage with a team-leading four catches for 66 yards, while Flournoy had three for 38.
"Brice has had a great camp. He can really catch the football and he runs terrific routes. He's done a really good job all camp long," said Carroll, whose team will open the 2009 season against San Jose State next week at the Coliseum. "Flournoy has been special at times and you can see it when he has the ball in his hands. He has really good quickness and explosiveness. He has no problem catching the football. But he's behind in the learning process and we're going to have to accelerate that."