Pushing passing game on both sides of ball

USC WRs make him better, Leon McQuay says, as Trojans push passing game on both sides of the ball.

Leon McQuay III thanks you for noticing how his end-game Holiday Bowl heroics and ability to step up seem to have continued through winter throwing sessions.

But it's not about him, or his safety partner John Plattenburg, who seem to have benefited from their time together in 2014. Time and again Friday, they teamed up to run down deep balls and make the plays USC wasn't always able to make last fall.

"Last year at this time, we were just learning the defense," the quiet McQuay will say if you push him hard enough. "Now we know what we're doing. That really helps."

Continuity matters. "The defense hasn't changed," he says of what they did in the fall. Although there is this. There is a change -- and then there isn't.

Nelson Agholor isn't around any more to school him on a daily basis, Leon says. But here come Steven Mitchell and Juju Smith.

"Playing against guys like that -- it's just like playing against Nelly," he says. "That's how you get good."

In fact, there's one way that a player like Mitchell can be even more challenging. "He might be a little more shifty, more unpredictable even [than Agholor]," McQuay said of the explosive, quick-footed Mitchell.

"I knew God had a plan for me," Mitchell said of his return to that home run hitter who can take it all the way, the one we saw on his high school films before his ACL surgery right before his first season at USC. Now he's 190 pounds, up from 179 when he arrived.

"And I'm faster," Mitchell says, thanking McQuay for the compliment about his shiftiness. "I always tried to work on my feet . . . I started playing football when I was 4 and I was always the quickest kid so I just worked on it."

Talking of working on it, Mitchell was thrilled the way the work of Agholor and Josh Shaw, who both ran 4.4's in the 40 at the NFL Combine, paid off. Mitchell's number for the 40 now that he's back, he says, is "a high 4.3."

All the better to make life tough, or make USC's defensive backs better.

"It should be fun," he said of some of the "duo" patterns USC is incorporating for him and JuJu lined up on the same side but with Mitchell in the backfield.

That forces teams to make a decision. Double JuJu and there's Mitchell releasing out of the backfield against a linebacker. Don't double JuJu and the edge goes to the quick, physical Trojan who will be a sophomore in the fall.

"We're going to do a lot of that kind of thing," Mitchell says with a big grin.

"Everybody's really got high hopes," he says of this USC team. "That's why we're getting going at 5:30 in the morning."

CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Friday's workout at FRIDAY'S FINAL WINTER WORKOUT GHOST NOTES. You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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