Just a couple of go-to guys

Between Tre Madden and Connor Spears, this USC offense has players for newcomers to look up to and check in with.

One of them didn't really make it to spring. For the other, last spring has been pretty much his entire USC career.

One of them is a fifth-year senior from Mission Viejo who, despite injuries, burst onto the scene wth a Marcus Allen-like start. The other has been as under-the-radar as it's possible for a redshirt sophomore transfer out of South Dakota by way of Columbia to be.

Both are running with the first-team offense and making plays the way USC can only hope they will -- running the ball, catching it and blocking.

One of them has a scholarship, the other does not.

But there's one thing that unites running back Tre Madden and tight end Connor Spears. They're each the go-to guys at their positions for the younger players to ask how do they do what they're supposed to do.

"That's the thing I really like about our freshman running backs," Madden said Tuesday after what had to be his best day in a couple of years coming back from foot surgery. "I'm definitely the old guy now. And they'll ask me about what to do on different plays."

Showing is telling the way the the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Madden has been playing in stringing back-to-back performances as good as any in his career. He's showing double moves and running it inside and outside, with power and speed.

That was never more on display than in a late outside zone read run to the left behind solid blocking that had him running at, then right by, Adoree Jackson in a move that surprised Adoree, for starters, and the rest of a USC defense as it chased Madden up the sideline.

"We do seem to be going against each other," Madden said. "I'm just trying to make him better," which didn't take long as on the next play, a blitzing Adoree spun, then stole the ball from falling freshman tailback Dominic Davis for a pickpocket-six.

As for Madden, his focus right now is not on his repaired foot. Not even a little bit. "I'm just trying to gain yards and keep the ball secure," he says. That's all he's thinking about.

Not a bad lesson for the young guys.

As for Connor, he realizes he's in a different place at a tight end position that has had tumultuous change from the loss, or potential loss, of what might have been returning veterans Bryce Dixon and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, the arrival of transfers Taylor McNamara and Daniel Imatorbhebhe and incoming freshmen Tyler Petite and Caleb Wilson not to mention grad student and former O-lineman Cyrus Hobbi.

"Tui (tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo) has a different standard for me," says the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Spears, who embraces such treatment now that he's taking the first group reps on offense this fall.

As a walkon, who has been at USC just three semesters, he's not eligible for a scholarship per NCAA rules without becoming an initial counter, until he's been here two full years. But that's not what matters now.

"Tui says 'You were here this spring," Connor says, and then in a reference to his Ivy League background, Tui hits him with: "You're from Columbia, you need to know this."

And yes, "I have been able to coach them a bit," Conner says of the newer guys. And he's even conducted some film sessions.

One thing Connor says he knows now: Playing spring football and getting ready for a real game in the fall are two completely different things.

Having built his body up from the 205 pounds or so that he was coming out of high school, Connor is now "focusing on my speed -- and my blocking . . . and positioning my body . . . I definitely have room to improve."

That need for speed and physicality are reasons why Connor agrees with Steve Sarkisian that tight end in the USC offense is the second-most difficult position to play.

"You have to be versatile, you have to be able to run and catch like a wide receiver," he says, and then block like a lineman. Which is why Connor says he's one of those "hand on the ground" tight ends, not a hybrid wideout type.

He liked the Stanford tight ends when they had Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener and of course in the NFL, there''s Rob Gronkowski.

Which is why he asked to switch from No 48 in the spring to No 81 -- "more of a tight end number," he says.

TUESDAY QUICK TAKES:


Stay tuned Wednesday for a potential big development in the Bryce Dixon case . That's all we can say right now . . . Practice time change for fans for today -- it's at 5:30 p.m. and open to the public although Dedeaux Deck won't be available. It's hosting a private gathering . . . Trojans will go in full pads for the first time Wednesday and they are looking forward to it . . . Not such a big crowd -- fans or media -- Tuesday. Earlier practice and second day of shoulder pads might account for it . . . Justin Davis just observed again with his hamstring . . . No action for Noah Jefferson with his hyperextended right elbow in a sling . . . big plays in the "finish challenge" final five plays came on a 50-yard Cody Kessler play action TD to JuJu Smith-Schuster for what seemed like his 47th catch of the day and a 2-1 edge for the offense . . . but after being put in two third and long (third and 8, third and 10) situations, the defense got a pair of team sacks to win for the third time in four days . . . too many big catches to list almost from the likes of De'Quan Hampton, Steven Mitchell, JuJu, Tober, Burnett . . . Pac-12 officiating crew here for the first time . . . not many flags . . . with Justin Davis out again, another day for the three freshman running backs to get a decent opportunity for carries . . . most work we've seen for Ronald Jones . . . Leon McQuay and Uchenna Nwosu on Pick-Six INTs in seven on seven . . . Delvon Simmons had a FG block . . . Kessler got his first work as backup FG holder . . . Hit of the day has freshman LB John Houston taking on Ronald Jones and nearly depositing him over the wall at Howard Jones with a loud thud.

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details and play-by-play on Tuesday's workout, check out FALL PRACTICE 4 TUESDAY GHOST NOTES.

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

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