USC's Smith-Schuster uncertain for Arizona game after hand surgery
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- If JuJu Smith-Schuster's recovery from hand surgery keeps him out this week, Southern California has several receivers eager to fill his starring role.
The Pac-12's leader in yards receiving underwent surgery Monday to stabilize a broken bone in his right hand. USC interim coach Clay Helton is unsure how long Smith-Schuster will be sidelined, saying the recovery time depends on the receiver's tolerance for pain.
The Trojans (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) don't know whether Smith-Schuster will be available for their game against Arizona (5-4, 2-4) on Saturday night.
"If we don't have him this week, the prognosis is hopefully next week," Helton said Tuesday after practice. "Obviously, this is one of the elite players in America."
Some players have returned from such a procedure in three days, but most didn't have to use their hands as extensively as a receiver with 52 catches for 956 yards and eight touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster broke a bone below his ring finger during the first quarter of USC's win at California last weekend.
He sent photos of his surgery to Helton while it was going on, thoroughly grossing out his coach while the screw and plate were inserted in his hand. Smith-Schuster then attended practice Tuesday to support his teammates as they prepare to go after their third straight win.
Smith-Schuster has capably inherited the mantle of the Trojans' top receiver, which has been passed down through an impressive list of recent holders. Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor all went on to profitable NFL careers in the past half-decade after being the No. 1 target of USC quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Cody Kessler.
"JuJu obviously really stepped up this year when Nelson left and stepped into that No. 1 receiver role," Kessler said. "He has played really well, had a very good season so far. But we've had a lot of injuries this year, and it's comfortable for me to know that all these guys know the offense."
Smith-Schuster's absence would force the Trojans to test their depth, and they appear to be relatively ready.
Receivers Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr. were in practice Tuesday after being slowed by recent injuries. Quarterback-turned-receiver Jalen Greene is showing progress as a pass-catcher while providing a valuable throwing threat for trick plays, including his third completion of the season on a 34-yard pass to Deontay Burnett last week in Berkeley.
Junior De'Quan Hampton is likely to get much more playing time in Smith-Schuster's absence. The Long Beach Community College transfer has just five catches for 84 yards this season, but has made significant receptions in each of the last three games.
Hampton realized the depth of the Trojans' skill positions when he transferred to USC, but he is moving up the ranks. He also stayed after practice Tuesday to work on his timing with Kessler, the three-year starter.
"I'm still just going to be ready when the ball finds its way to me," Hampton said. "We can all play. We're all ballers. We don't have no weak link. We're pushing to be the No. 1 receiver group (in the nation), and it's going to happen."