USC's 'back' pack has 'FIFA' fever

Tre Madden and Jahleel Pinner, former Mission Viejo teammates, hold down the middle section by size of a USC running back position that seems to run in big numbers and even bigger sizes: from large and larger to double XXL.

Quietly finishing up a morning workout last week, two former Mission Viejo teammates, both juniors, say as much about the depth and talent at the USC running back position as anything could.

Without almost saying a word.

Tre Madden, who started last season with a Marcus Allen-like burst of three straight 100-yard plus rushing games on his way to a total of 703 yards despite hamstring problems, is the mid-size big guy at 225 pounds.

His buddie, fullback turning tailback, Jahleel Pinner has "trimmed down" to 235 pounds, he says, from above 240 as he gets ready for his role as the bigger back with the transfer of Ty Isaac to Michigan.

But that still doesn't make Pinner the biggest back with 255-pound Soma Vainuku also available if he comes over from his All-Pac-12 special teams starring role.

And we have yet to mention Buck Allen, MVP a year ago and looking bigger and quicker every day we see him in the summer at 215 pounds, playing the role of the smaller back here. Although not the smallest in the regular rotation, with 200-pound sophomore Justin Davis, after his exciting debut before an ankle injury stopped him after five games, checking in at an elusive 200 pounds.

Then figure in speedster D.J. Morgan, healthy he says for the first time in three seasons, and walkon James Toland, who showed so much in the spring.

Allen's numbers are the nost impressive, of course, despite just four career starts -- 817 rushing yards on 141 carries (a 5.8 average) with 22 receptions for 252 yards and four career 100-yard games. But maybe the most important number here is 14 -- the touchdowns he's racked up.

But Davis, who opened his college career with 74 yards against Hawai'i, 96 against Boston College and 122 against Arizona State, scored a total of fivel TDs with a 6.8 average-per-carry. Another running back who showed he knew where the end zone was.

Vainuku even had a 70-yard game at Colorado with a 52-yard TD run on his one offensive outing. So there's also that.

What is that, seven deep even despite losing Isaac? Does that put this USC group into the running with Alabama for the best bunch in the nation? Just don't ask Lane Kiffin. But that's another story.

And there we've done it again. Taking the focus away from Madden and Pinner, who don't really seem to mind about any of this, even being called the middle-of-the-pack Trojan "big backs."

"I don't think we have any little backs," Madden says. Even now.

"It's a lot of running that we're doing," Pinner says of his leaner body this summer and the uptempo offense that promises enough plays for all of them, they hope. "We just want to play," Pinner says. "For me, I'm just learning the plays [at tailback]."

The way USC is approaching the summer helps here.

"We're getting lots of reps," Madden says of the 90-plays-a-night workouts as Pinner nods in agreement. As much running as anyone could ask for.

Muscle memory anyone?

"We're getting that . . . definitely," Madden says, repeating the mantra last year's offensive line coach Mike Summers had for his guys up front. It's the whole offense now.

"But we're having more fun playing," Madden says, with enough running to make a World Cup player jealous.

"Yeah, that's right," he says with a big grin, "this team has FIFA fever."

"Definitely," Pinner says, echoing Madden. "We're getting so many reps and so much running, it's 100 percent better" than a year ago at this time for knowing the offense, even a new-look offense.

No more hoping you know what to do. "It's still mostly the same plays," Madden says of the run game

, just quicker and out of the shotgun. >p>But it's the approach. You get to do the plays so much, you just do it almost without thinking.

"Definitely," Madden and Pinner say in unison.


USCFootball.com Top Stories