USC Newcomer Notebook: The Living Daylights

With the USC Trojans football team in full pads for the fifth day of fall camp, running backs coach Johnny Nansen finally saw a glimpse of his prized freshmen in the open field.

And on the fifth day of USC fall camp practice, the Trojan freshman tailbacks saw daylight.

While senior running back Tre Madden broke two big runs during team scrimmaging Tuesday, freshman tailbacks Aca’Cedric Ware and Ronald Jones finally saw the open field Wednesday.

With Wednesday being the first day of full pads for the Trojans, the freshmen trio of Ware, Jones and Dominic Davis took a majority of the snaps. Tuesday Jones ran behind the first team offensive line for the first time.

Wednesday was the first time the Cedar Hill (Texas) native found daylight in the open field.

“Ronald is a break away back that we haven’t had in… years,” said running backs coach Johnny Nansen. “It’s nice to have the option of a guy you can bring in there and he can break a big one at any time.”

It’s an option that illustrates the depth USC is developing at all position post the NCAA sanctions levied on the program in 2011. But with only two scholarship tailbacks returning, Nansen is riding the freshmen early with no thoughts of red shirting any one of the three.

“They’ve got to play,” said Nansen. “That’s why they’re in there with the ones. We have to challenge them and counting on those guys coming in and helping us.

“Not only with the offense, but on specula teams. They’re all so gifted we need that.”

Quarterback Max Browne has spent time with each running back and broke them down accordingly.

“Over the years I think they’ll compliment each other real well,” said Brown. “With Ronald, he probably the best down hill runner, but I hesitate to call him a power guy because he’s still so good in open space and super quick.

“Aca’Cedric reminds me of a young Justin Davis because he’s a one cut and go type of runner. He’s also been good out there in space catching the ball.

“I saw a quote where someone called Dominic Davis a little Darren Sproles type back. I don’t know if he likes that comparison, but he’s effective on third down and we’ve gotten the ball to him out of the backfield a lot already.

“Not to downgrade his ability to run the ball. We saw in PRP’s that he can beat you in open space.”

Two nuances of the running back position that are often overlooked are pass blocking and receiving. Thus far, each freshmen running back has had his struggles catching the football during various portions of practice.

“Yeah, there have been some off the chest tip balls that are never good,” said Browne. “Thats a huge part of our offense and something we’ve talked about working on with the young guys.

“Pass blocking is also a big deal. Shoot, the guy that can block is probably the guy who will see the field first. That’s the nature of the beast. I mean, you can also put in special packages for a running back, but if you can block, that develops an element of trust in the pass game.”

Browne was reluctant to name a running back ahead of the curve when it comes to the intangibles of playing the position, but senior tailback Tre Madden was less diplomatic about the progression of each player.

“Dominic Davis is shifty, and probably the best guy coming out of the back field,” said Madden. “He reminds me of Darren Sproles.

“Ronald Jones is a freak athlete. He has amazing burst coming out of the back field and can make a play at any moment. Cedric is the best pass protector and a great runner. He can also catch, so he gives us a little bit of everything. USC is in good hands the next few years.”

Nansen echoed the same sentiments as Madden in describing each running back in the freshman class.

“Ronald and Dominic are your break away guys, as you saw on that run with Ronald,” said Nansen. “Ced is like Buck Allen. Good pass pro, more reliable and a very, very smart kid. He runs just like Buck and kind of reminded me of Buck when I first saw him.

“Dominic is special, and you can use him in the backfield. You can use him to create some mismatches, but he’s a tough runner. There’s a lot of roles we’re trying to develop once they start learning the plays.”

With Justin Davis out with a minor hamstring injury and the team saving Madden’s legs, Nansen will continue to let the freshmen loose.

“There is no depth chart,” said Nansen. “We look for whoever is the next guy to step up and do the job. It’s a log season, and like I told the kids, you never know when you’ll get a chance to compete with the ones.

“That’s how it is going to be in a game. The way we go, I think that will help our older guys later in the year too so we can finish games.”

New and Notes from Practice:

  • Tuesday, freshman cornerback Iman Marshall was kicked off of kick return island. Wednesday, Aca'cedric Ware was a kick return casualty. Isaiah Langley, Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones and Isaac Whitney all returned kicks while Ykili Ross and Deontay Burnett ran back punts. This was the first day of camp where Jones did not misjudge or drops a kick.

  • Iman Marshall got time with the first unit kick off team. That's a good indicator that the coaches expect Marshall to play a lot this season.

  • Of course, lining up with the first unit, Marshall bolted out of his stance down the field and ends up off sides by about 5-yards.

  • Freshmen Osa Masina, Ykili Ross, Marvell Tell and junior Isaac Whitney lined up for second team kick off.

  • Third team kick off unit was John Houston, Aca'Cedric Ware, De'Quan Hampton and Ronald Jones. This speaks to the newly found depth USC has because of the 2015 class.

  • While Isaac Whitney was backing Juju Smith last spring, Whitney is now backing up Darreus Rogers, while DeQuan 'Hampton is backing up Juju Smith.

  • In the first team 11-on-11 period, Marvell Tell saw extensive time with the first team defense. Tell got a lot of first team reps Tuesday, but he played almost exclusively with the first group Wednesday. Cameron Smith was the only other freshman with the first group during this period.

  • On offense, freshman running back Ronald Jones got the first carry with the first unit offense. Jones would only run for 10-yards on a few carries, but it was apparent early the offensive line started getting more push this practice. It started late Tuesday with Tre Madden and continued Wednesday with Jones and Ware finding more running room.

  • Clayton Johnston got more reps Wednesday with the third team playing left tackle.

  • Both freshmen quarterbacks struggled in seven-on-seven Wednesday after a solid showing Tuesday.

  • Freshman tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe got his first catch of camp on a playaction pass into the flats.

  • The team took part in a Pride Drill at the goal line of Kennedy Field Wednesday. Isaac Whitney went against Kevon Seymour and got body slammed first rep. Whitney went right back at Seymour and managed to slip over the goal line on his second attempt.

  • De'Quan Hampton drew Adoree Jackson head-to-head in Pride Drills and ran him over fairly easily.

  • Freshmen defensive end Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson remain out with injuries. Green actually looked a bit more gimpy walking around the practice field Wednesday than previously.

  • During the second session of scrimmaging, safety Marvell Tell and running back Ronald Jones once again went with the first group. Jones got the first carry for the offense and then two more back-to-back plays for limited gains.

  • Freshman running back Aca'Cedric Ware got the next carry and broke a big run up the middle for 16-yards. Ware stayed in with the second team and ran for another 8-yards. Ware's third carry of the period goes for 4-yards and the USC running game looked in a rhythm for the first time since camp started. Ware is patient and he has great peripheral vision for cutting back against the grain.

  • Running backs coach Johnny Nansen would go onto say that Ware is very smart and is probably ahead of the freshman group learning the playbook. Both Nansen and Tre Madden say Ware is the best pass blocker of the newcomers as well. Nansen says he is the closest thing to Buck Allen USC has at running back right now. Ware is the only freshmen without a fumble in camp.

  • Freshman Dominic Davis followed Ware with second team carries and was immediately welcomed to the line up with a crushing tackle by linebacker John Houston. Davis' next carry ends the same way with a close line tackle.

  • Freshman tight end Tyler Petite has a couple of good catches during the ensuing seven-on-seven period. Petite catches two passes for about 30-yards.

  • In this period, Iman Marshall had some good back and forth battles with George Katrib. Marshall had a great pass break up on Katrib and the Katrib came back on caught a pass on him down the side line.

  • Freshman cornerback Isaiah Langley had a fantastic diving pass break up on Juju Smith on a post corner route, but Langley's nemesis, Robby Kolanz, beat him badly again during seven-on-seven. Langley shows flashes against first team competition, but has struggled staying with the walk-on receivers.

  • As the final scrimmage period gets under way, Ronald Jones flashes his 10.37 100-meter speed down the right sideline as he breaks off tackle. The whole team buzzed as Jones exploded past the first wave on the defense. Jones gained 20-25-yards on the run, but it was the first time he has gotten into the open field during camp. Johnny Nansen remarks, "Nobody has seen that kind of game breaking speed around here for a while." Jones led the team in carries with Madden limited and Justin Davis out.

  • Linebacker Osa Masina stripped tight end Connors Spears, which John Houston recovered. Masina was definitely more active Wednesday and had a good showing in Pride Drills earlier in practice.

  • Freshman quarterback Ricky Town comes in with the third team offense and promptly throws two straight interceptions to walk-on cornerback Jalen Jones. Both passes were throw to the same side of the field and roughly the same area.

  • While Town has had interception woes, freshman Sam Darnold has had snap and hand up issues in several practices.

  • Rush end Porter Gustin was an enforcer Wednesday going at it with just about every blocker he faced. Gustin definitely plays to the whistle, which Daniel Imatorbhebhe found out Wednesday. Gustin almost drove him into the coaches standing behind the offense twice in 11-on-11.

  • After getting first team right tackle reps Sunday and Monday, Chuma Edoga was back to playing with the second unit for most of his reps Tuesday and Wednesday.

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