While the pace of practice was exceptional, the movement of freshman utility player Adoree Jackson was as well. Jackson began his day as a cornerback, despite working as wide out during summer work outs.
It was a pleasant surprise for USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward.
“He actually came to me and said he wanted to start out with the defensive backs first,” said Heyard. “I was pretty excited about that, so we started him out at cornerback first.
“Then the offense borrowed him a bit, so he is going to learn both. Whenever I can get him, we’ll use him. But I also want to do right by him and make sure he is getting enough reps so he can contribute and be mentally prepared.”
While Heyward gained Jackson as a cornerback 75-percent of the time, Tee Martin lost out on a wide out 75-percent of the time.
“It really came down to where he felt he could get on the field the quickest,” said Martin. “Whether that be at corner, nickel or wide receiver.
“We do know he is special with the ball in his hands, so what we did was script specific plays for him on offense. Then we could get a hit count on what he is doing and what he is learning.
“He made some plays on defense and he made some plays on offense. Coach didn’t put in an ultimatum and say ‘You’re going to play offense today’ or ‘You’re going to play defense tomorrow.’
“We’re going to let him be a free bird and just chart his reps on offense. He also got in on the return game too, so we want to utilize the gifts that he has.”
Although USC has had players tinker on both sides of the football in an individual practice, Monday was the first time a freshman has ever been a featured player in multiple aspects of practice on offense and defense.
“It takes some maturity,” said Martin. “With Adoree, Juju (Smith) and Ajene Harris, you have three very mature freshmen in terms of football knowledge and mental preparation.
“Ajene didn’t play a down of receiver in high school and came out and caught four or five balls. He didn’t panic once — not once. Same thing with Juju, same thing with Adoree. He is playing this side of the ball, that side of the ball and made plays on both sides.
“Those three guys are rare talents to have and I have them all.”
The trade off of athletes
While Jackson made plays on both sides of the ball Monday, freshmen Rahshead Johnson, Juju Smith and Ajene Harris were all very visible for the offense.
“Rahshead played more receiver in high school, so he’s comfortable there,” said Heyward. “I’ll coach up whoever is on my side of the ball.
“I think the guys around see him as a good receiver, so he heard that I decided to play offense.”
Martin spoke to Johnson about the move to receiver recently.
“He called me two weeks ago and said, ‘coach, I really want to play receiver,” said Martin. “I was fine with that, so he started studying receiver, getting reps in PRP and he was in my meetings when we started training camp.
“I’m edited to have him. He’s an extremely talented young man and we’re going to get him up to par with the rest of the group.
“One thing we say in recruiting and we follow through with is letting the young guys go first. As far as getting reps, we really push to get them early reps.”
And so they did. Former Long Beach (Calif.) safety and receiver Juju Smith had the biggest highlight play of practice Monday. Many fans in the crowd marveled at Smith’s 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame, questioning whether defensive back may be his ultimate position.
That was until he made a diving catch 60-yards down field.
“That was alpha dog versus alpha dog,” said Martin. “That was Juju versus Adoree — the best versus the best from high school last year.
“It was good to see Juju make that play. We’re not scripting guys to get the ball right now. This is just letting them get reps and seeing what they do. That was a single route play where he had to convert the route based on the coverage.
“To make that catch day one of camp, it’s really rare. Especially with the amount of plays they’re running. For a young kid to not look over at us and ask us what to do, that’s great.”
Practice news and notes:
- Adoree Jackson and Ajene Harris both took reps on punt return Monday, while Juju Smith returned kicks.
- Redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell participated in all aspects of practice Monday without a knee brace or sleeve.
- After an early drop in drills, Bryce Dixon made a few nice catches down the hash makes. One ball was on Dixon before he could turn and he caught the pass with his arms extended.
- It was about this time when Steve Sarkisian went off on Rahshead Johnson for running the wrong route in drills.
- As team drills got underway, Harris and Smith bot got reps with Cody Kessler and much of the first team offense.
- As expected, John Plattenburg lined up at safety Monday.
- Cornerback Jonathan Lockett lined up opposite of Jackson Monday. Lockett got beat by George Farmer badly in seven-on-seven, but redeemed himself by breaking up a pass to Darreus Rogers down field.
- In team periods, Toa Lobendahn and Max Tuerk switch off playing guard and center for the first team offense.
- Adoree Jackson gets his first reps as a wide out in the team period sporting a yellow jersey. The variety of his contributions were limited, but he did get a handful of reps.
- nbsp; Viane Talamaivao got third team center reps in addition to playing some left guard on the second team offense. Damien Mama also got second team reps at right guard.
- nbsp; Uchenna Nwosu played outside linebacker in seven-on-seven drills as Malik Dorton took reps with the linemen in one-on-one drills.
- Jackson shows off his speed as he almost makes a play on a deep ball intended for Victor Blackwell.
- Jackson moves over to defense a few plays later when Juju Smith makes a spectacular diving grab down field.