USC’s coaches came into this season believing they had four starting-caliber cornerbacks. They will find out Thursday night whether they have at least three.
Starting cornerback Shareece Wright will miss “a number of weeks” because of a neck injury, Trojans coach Pete Carroll announced after practice Monday.
Tests revealed a hairline fracture in one of Wright’s vertebrae. He originally suffered the injury against Ohio State on Sept. 13 when he collided with a teammate.
Senior Josh Pinkard will start in Wright’s place opposite Cary Harris when USC visits Oregon State on Thursday. Pinkard started three games in 2005 at cornerback and the season opener in 2006 at free safety. He missed most of the past two seasons because of knee injuries.
Kevin Thomas, who moves up to the No. 3 cornerback spot, is also a former starter. Both he and Pinkard played extensively in the first two games.
“Luckily we have some depth this year at that position, so hopefully there’s no drop-off,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “I feel comfortable with whoever’s in there.”
USC will miss Wright on its punt-coverage team. Carroll called Wright “a great gunner.” Receiver Ronald Johnson will get first crack at that spot, with Thomas also in the mix, against Oregon State’s Sammie Stroughter, who returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown when the teams met in 2006.
Wright participated in non-contract drills Sunday after sitting out the previous three practices but reported lingering soreness. Carroll said that if the injury is like other broken bones, it could take six weeks to heal.
Carroll said Wright would have played against Oregon State if healthy despite facing a felony charge of resisting a police officer in connection with a party that got out of hand earlier this month.
Freshman T.J. Bryant will serve as the fourth cornerback against the Beavers.