When Ronald Johnson suffered a cracked clavicle during the final scrimmage of the fall, USC fans knew the Trojans would be without one of their best players, but no one could have imagined the impact it has had on the offense so far this season.
With Johnson sidelined for the beginning of the season, the offense struggled to get the ball down the field and became one-dimensional at times, allowing opposing defenses to key on the running game.
The Trojans have found ways to make big plays in the passing game in recent weeks, and got a major boost on Tuesday when Johnson returned to the practice field.
"I have been out for five weeks, so it felt good to get back out there running and catching," he said. "I feel like I am back."
Johnson wore a yellow jersey on Tuesday and doesn't plan to participate in contact drills until next week.
"We are going to ease him through this week. You can see that we are making sure that nobody hits him, so he can make it through a week of work," Carroll said. "Then we will come back next week and he will be a part of the game plan."
The junior wide receiver said he is going to play against Notre Dame when the Trojans travel to South Bend on Oct.17th for an important nonconference showdown.
"He is scheduled to play in this game," Carroll said. "We just have to get him through the preparation and make sure that he is alright and can handle the workload."
While still limited, the energy that Johnson brings to the field with his work ethic and determination, can't be overstated.
"Everybody loves RoJo, and he's such a great worker and he contributes so much to the tempo of practice," Carroll said.
Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was particularly pleased to see the return of Johnson, who is one of the most dangerous offensive players on USC's roster.
"I can't wait to throw to him again," Barkley said. "His speed is just a huge asset, and he is stoked to be back, which is even better."
Johnson had 33 catches for 570 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago, and will give the Trojans a true deep threat. His return will take pressure off of the running game as well as open up opportunities for other players underneath.
"He has great speed, great playing making ability, knows our system so well and he makes other guys play well," Carroll said. "He will make things happen for us, so it's great to get him back out here."
Barkley added: "It adds another threat which always opens up other receivers. He just adds that other dimension that helps us throwing deep."
The Trojans could also see the return of another impact player in defensive end Armond Armstead.
Armstead, who was slated to start this season before breaking a bone in his foot, did some running on Tuesday, and also plans to return for the Notre Dame game.
"Armstead is scheduled to be ready to play next week. He is further behind because he was unable to condition his lower body," Carroll said. "His upper body has been lifting and working but his lower body, he's more in a rehab mode this week.
"The trainers are hoping that he will be able to play in two weeks."
The sophomore defensive end is being eased back into action to make sure he doesn't re-injure his foot.
"They want to make sure that I am not putting myself at risk by going out there too fast even though I am cleared," he said. "It is really up to the trainers right now when I practice.
"I was thinking either the end of this week or definitely next week."
- Fullback Adam Goodman missed practice with a dislocated shoulder that he suffered against Cal.
- Weak-side linebacker Malcolm Smith returned to practice in a limited role on Tuesday.
"He practiced today, so he got some work," Carroll said. "We have to be careful and make sure he makes it through, but he's looking like he will be ready to compete to play next week."
- Defensive end Nick Perry, who leads the Pac-10 in sacks, left practice early after banging his bruised left knee, again.
"He got hit right on the exact same spot, so it's really sore," Carroll said. "It isn't a knee injury, it's this knee bruise thing, and he got hit exactly on the same spot again. It's the third time that it has happened."
- Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley said he is no longer limited by his bruised shoulder and is back to 100 percent.
"I wouldn't say my arm is a factor anymore," he said. "I would say 100 percent."
- USC safety Taylor Mays was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after recording 10 tackles and an interception in USC's 30-3 victory over Cal. Mays' interception in the end zone ended the Bears drive and shifted the momentum of the game.
"I think it was a great statement that we weren't going to let it (a touchdown for Cal) happen," Carroll said.
- USC punt returner Damian Williams was honored as the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week for his impressive performance against Cal. Williams' 66-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter of play gave the Trojans a 17-0 lead.
It was USC's first punt return for a touchdown since 2005.
- During the bye week several of the young players will be given extra work and an opportunity to showcase their talents. Carroll said that DeVon Flournoy, Kevin Graf, John Martinez, T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling, Kevin Greene, Devon Kennard and Jarvis Jones are players that will receive increased reps.
"What we are trying to get in the bye opportunity is to give a lot of guys chances to show where they fit in and try to help the young guys elevate," Carroll said.
- The competition for the starting place-kicker job is back on this week.
"It looks like the guys are just about neck and neck again, so we are going to see that through," Carroll said.
- The USC Trojans have a bye week before heading to South Bend to face Notre Dame on Oct. 17th.
Ronald Johnson catches a pass during Tuesday's practice.
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