Practice in pads -- shoulder pads for the first time -- had just finished Saturday and one of the first USC coaches to come up and congratulate Soma Vainuku was D-line coach Chris Wilson.
Extending his hand, Wilson said "You practiced like a vet today, no BS."
Indeed, Vainuku stepped in for the rehabbing Tre Madden to give USC a big running back behind an offensive line that needed to get a first test as to where it was right now. In a better place, actually, getting the jump, as Steve Sarkisian said, on a D-line "that got pushed around a bit" at the start.
Give the 265-pound Vainuku, who doesn't look that big, a big part of that credit for his bullish runs behind an O-line trying to find itself.
"Being a senior now, I told Coach [Sark] I'd be there for whatever he needed me to do," he said. "And the offensive line needs me too. So that's what I did. I was moving pretty good out there."
Indeed. "Imagine what he can do if he loses 15 to 20 pounds," running backs coach Johnny Nansen said. He's now set up an early morning conditioning session for the two of them. "Gotta work him back into shape . . . the guy's got so much talent . . . and he's got a lot on his plate."
"It is learning a new position," Soma says of moving from fullback more to the straight-up tailback spot where he expects to be down to 250, maybe even 245, to handle it. And without Madden, that just may be what happens here with Soma creating a place in USC's big back attack.
"You can never have too many running backs in this offense," Nansen said. "We were so lucky last year to get by with just two. What you realize is that when you're in a place like we are when someone's not there, the next guy just has to step up."
Maybe this year, he already has.
More secondary stepping up
Much of the thinking had it that the first day in pads would benefit the O-line, as it did. But it also seemed to help a physical, active secondary as well. Especially Kevon Seymour, who is all business for this his final season.
Gone are his signature dreadlocks. "The day after the bowl game," he says, he had them sheared off. It was a three-person operation -- his girlfriend, his brother and his sister combined to give him the standard short haircut. "It was a business decision, Seymour says, looking ahead to "the perception" of how the people he hopes to be working for at the next level look at him.
"No matter how good you are," he says, you want to give off that all-business sense of yourself. Although for Seymour, whose one-on-one battles all day with Juju Smith made that clear with a leaping end zone interception and a couple of strong deflections, that's becoming pretty obvious: USC has a shutdown senior corner.
"I really challenged Kevon after the first practice," Sark said. He wants him to play with real energy "and a short memory . . . it showed today."
A different place
One can only imagine the last time a college football team at one of America's elite programs hoping to take a run at a national championship had to exit the practice field early for a women's club lacrosse match. Or had to change practice times twice, as USC did Saturday, to hit the narrow window for the two hours Cromwell Field would be available between the track team's requirements and the club lacrosse match between USC and U. of San Diego.
Even more, one can try to imagine this conversation -- "Coach Saban, you'll have to take the Crimson Tide off the field now. The Alabama women's club lacrosse team has a game." Only in our wildest dreams does that happen. And yet USC manages to stay in the picture and the conversation.
Adoree Jackson missed Saturday's practice to attend a funeral . . . No updates and no more conversation on Bryce Dixon's status as his student conduct case develops, Sark said, he'll have no further comments on it . . . the kicking range of Matt Boermeester, and his competititor for the field goal job, Alex Woods, last year's kickoff specialist, may change how USC looks at long field goals, Sark said, although he plans to remain quite aggressive after crossing the 50 and go for it. But the way USC looks at 48- to 52-yard field goals on fourth and six might change. This could be the end of Cody Kessler's punting career . . . No full contact for Kenny Bigelow, down to a trim 285 pounds this spring just to be safe. Bigelow said he'll do the light contact stuff and all the individual drills but take no chances in the team and 11-on-11 work with his surgically repaired knee from last September. He really does have a different look about hm and will do lots of separate technique stuff on the side with the coaching staff . . . He's playing well and taking leadership as a junior now but safety Leon McQuay III has one additional goal -- he'd like to get his lean 6-foot-1 frame up to 200 pounds for this season and that will require putting on another 10 to 15 pounds by August.CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Saturday's workout at SATURDAY SPRING DAY 3 GHOST NOTES.
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