LOS ANGELES — USC will trot out veteran pass catchers for quarterback Sam Darnold when it opens its season on Saturday against Western Michigan.
As part of the depth chart it revealed Sunday, its three starting receivers include fourth-year juniors Deontay Burnett and Jalen Greene, along with fifth-year senior Steven Mitchell.
“If you’ve been out there before, you kind of know how to handle the pressure and just play your game,” Greene said.
Burnett was long projected to start as the slot receiver, as he did for the final six games of last season, capped with his 13 catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns – including the tying score – in the Rose Bowl.
But the outside receiver spots to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers were up for grabs in training camp.
Greene, called the “most improved” by offensive coordinator Tee Martin after moving to receiver full-time from quarterback, edged redshirt freshman Tyler Vaughns, who had a strong camp. Mitchell solidified the other outside receiver position after sophomore Michael Pittman suffered a high ankle sprain and freshman Joseph Lewis was slowed by a groin injury. Pittman is doubtful for the season opener on Saturday.
“They really showed their experience in training camp,” Martin said of the trio, “the expectations of what practice is supposed to look like, what execution is supposed to look like, what competition should look like.”
Asked if their experience gave them an edge,
“They know what to expect,” Martin said. “They know the plays, a little more comfortable in the moment.”
Martin added that he expects seven to eight receivers to play this season. Coach Clay Helton said that includes Lewis, along with fellow freshman Randall Grimes.
“We’ll start with the experience, we’ll start with guys who have played in games and who we’ve seen,” Helton said, “and allows these guys that have redshirted and are literally walking into this stadium for the first time to play to see how they react.
In the early 1990s, Helton was a college quarterback at Auburn, before he transferred to Houston for his final two seasons. His father, Kim Helton, had been hired as the Cougars’ coach in 1993.
It was a sort of homecoming.
Clay graduated from Clements High in Sugar Land, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and maintains ties to the area.
The news of this weekend’s Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged the Gulf Coast, was frightening. His sister lives with her…