It was "long ball Tuesday" in Spring Practice 13 in the rain at Cromwell Field but the more than half-dozen bombs might have been only the second most important offensive development of the day.
The return of Tre Madden to tailback, to running it up in there and getting banged around, mighthave been the best thing that happened here. It was for Tre, whose midseason surgery to reattach his sesamoid bone in his right foot for what had been originally thought to be turf toe, had caused him to miss the entire 2014 season.
"I'm a little farther than I thought," Tre said with a smile after practice. "Coach Nansen came up to me Monday and said why don't we try it . . . so we did."
And the result? "Mentally I'm there," he says. Physically he's getting there. "Definitely, yeah, I am." But that doesn't mean he can forget about the foot.
"Definitely I'm thinking about it right now although I try not to," he says, and he'll be in the trainer's room to ice it up and get the laser work on it and see how it's going.
Tre said he liked the way his "timing" and his ability "to read my blockers" was there like he'd never left on the three running plays -- two of which he got busted to the ground in the no-tackling "thud" session.
"I understand it," he says of how "he just happened to fall" to the ground on those plays. "I played defense."
But even if Tre, who's at 230 now but expects to play at 223, said he didn't quite have the acceleration he'd like off his plant foot on his cut, although it wasn't noticeable,
"Tre is one of those guys who can be out eight months and never miss a beat," Cody Kessler said of the tailback's return.
"He's the complete back," said offensive coordinator Clay Helton. "He can catch the ball and he's great in pass protection. And you saw how he started out the season two years ago . . . " with the first three straight 100-plus-yard games since Marcus Allen.
Airing it out
On a day when USC had no new installation on offense, the pass game got plenty of attention with an emphasis on throwing it deep. Steve Sarkisian explained with an Al Davis reference and his year working for Al Davis, who recommended "two deep balls a quarter . . . eight a game."
Not an absolute mathematical requirement, just a guideline,Sark said. "We don't hold hard and fast to that number," he said, although they exceeded it by plenty Tuesday with that many balls caught for long TDs in both 11 on 11 and seven on seven.
Having Adoree Jackson, who had a couple of those catches, helped. "We're running out of days" with him, Sark said of his three-way player. No wasting time here.
But he was hardly alone. Steven Mitchell, Ajene Harris, Darreus Rogers, Aaron Minor and Robby Kolanz joined in the fun. "No question, Steven is really coming on . . . he's all the way back with his explosiveness to where he was before he hurt his knee," Helton said.
"And Ajene Harris is becoming Mr. Dependable. He's always where you need him to be. Like Nelson [Agholor], he's a former quarterback."
But for the current quarterback, having the run game back this spring, with Soma Vainuku stepping in as the big back or the fullback, helps. "What it's allowed us to do is have three receivers and two running backs . . . that's a great addition for us."
Shaking off the rust
Not only did Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick get much of the first team offensive work at tight end, he managed to make a number of plays when the ball came his way -- which it seemed to on this pass-heavy day.
"I agree," he said of the positive appraisal of his play. "From where I was to where I've come this spring, I'm starting to feel comfortable now . . . It's go time."
He's "shaking the rust off," Jalen says and getting there. He's at 245 pounds now with a goal to be at 250 for the fall. "It's great to be playing football again," he says after sitting out the fall with academic difficulties and finishing up practicing football in mid-October to concentrate on his classwork.
"I definitely feel like I'm making the transition back now and will be all the way back when we get started [in August]."
At practice, the Trojans welcomed Gabriel Garcia and his family as special guests. Garcia of the San Bernardino Police Department had been shot in the head last August by an assailant and was in a coma for weeks and has been returning to health slowly after a number of surgeries for much of the past year. USC has been involved with Garcia for a good while, Sark said, and will have Officer Garcia as a guest at the Spring Game Saturday . . . USC returns to practice Thursday at Cromwell Field in an open-to-the-public 3:30 p.m. workout . . . the one player dinged up for Tuesday's practice and taking it a bit easy although participating was safety John Plattenburg (ankle) . . . Claude Pelon wasn't at practice but tht was for an academic obligation, Sark said, not connecting to his injury to his arm Saturday . . . Khaliel Rodgers was back from his shoulder problem that had him out last week and took over second team center duties allowing Toa Lobendahn to move back to first team left tackle again . . . defense won the finishing five-play portion of practice on this day after falling behind on the first two plays but then making three straight stops on a day when the offense had had the better of it much of the time . . . It's tough being a freshman quarterback, Sark said, but Ricky Town is making progress and getting better at something every day.CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Tuesday's workout at TUESDAY SPRING DAY 13 GHOST NOTES.
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