Young'uns having fun

Su'a Cravens and Adoree Jackson have given this USC defense a little bit of swag, a feeling of fun and a couple of playmakers who don't let their youth get in the way -- not too much, anyway.

They are becoming the go-to guys here. And that's not really been the norm.

After all, when was the last time a USC team, on defense, had a freshman and sophomore the must-interview people after practice.

But there they are -- first-year guy Adoree getting ready for his second career start Saturday against go-go Arizona State and second-year Su'a Cravens -- getting ready for his second go-round as a linebacker-lite or whatever his position exactly is now.

But before the talk turns to ASU, you have to ask: Did Adoree really just spin 180 degrees on the last punt of the day as the whistle sounded to go to the next period with the ball in the air and grab it behind his back as easy as anything?

He did, Adoree says with a grin. "I was just showing Darreus [Rogers] how to do it, He's not quite there yet, And he has some of the best hands on the team."

He's not the only one not there. "I can't do that," said USC secondary coach and former Oregon State DB Keith Heyward. "It's awesome."

It's also one of those areas where although freshmen have so much to learn, especially talented freshmen who can get along on that talent for quite a while, catching a punt behind his back, is among the things "I have not taught him," Heyward said. Adoree is on his own there.

That applies as well to his Richard Sherman-esque tip and deflection in the end zone to Leon McQuay III for an interception in the Oregon State game.

"The guys were all talking about that," Adoree said. They noticed the similarity. But that one was a bit by accident. He didn't realize exactly where Leon was trailing the play and Leon didn't realize the ball would be coming his way.

But when it happened again, this time in Tuesday's practice on a deep sideline ball to Juju Smith. "That was intentional," Adoree said, "now that I know how to do it."

Of the behind-the-back catch, Steve Sarkisian could only smile. Yes, he saw it. "I just saw a kid having fun . . . He should be having fun . . . and he's fun to coach."

But not to imitate. Of that behind-the-back grab, "I wouldn't even try that," says former BYU quarterback Sark, "it would hurt."

But it's not all fun and games. "He makes plays," Sark said of Jackson's role on a USC team that's sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and third down conversion defense, seventh in turnover margin (plus 1.8) and 11th in interceptions with seven. "We're a better team when he does."

Making plays is the idea for Su'a the SAM linebacker who is still learning his craft but his Pick-Six off Sean Mannion Saturday got him going at his new spot that saw him lead USC in tackles with six, tackles for loss with two including one of USC's two sacks.

"I'm getting better at it," Su'a says of standing up on the line of scrimmage and taking on blockers by, as he and his coaches describe it, "reducing his shoulder."

"I can't put my shoulder down into a lineman," Su'a said, not because at 225 pounds, he's too light but that it would take away one of his biggest assets. If he did that, it would mean "I would take my eyes off the ball." And that's what he does best. Make plays on the ball in space.

"I don't put him in the same place with Adoree," Heyward says of his sometime safety. "They've got different skills." But he does put him down on the line of scrimmage now, when called for, and knows it wasn't an easy transition.

"Any kid will resist that," Heyward said. "We showed him how it would be better for him." And without doubt, better for this USC team right now as Saturday's results made clear.

As to what to call Su'a, Heyward's not going there. "He's part of a package," Heyward says. "He's not a safety, he's not a linebacker, just part of the package."

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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