Spring Preview: Ready to run?

Sophomore Ronald Jones and senior Justin Davis share the billing going into the spring as the pair greet new/old running backs coach Tommie Robinson on his return to USC.

Quality not quantity.

Speed not size.

Talent not depth.

Tommie Robinson, it’s up to you. Time to work your 2013 magic with another intriguing group of Trojans running backs, none of whom top 200 pounds.

And is the coach they call T-Rob ever happy to be back. Not just back at USC, after two seasons at Texas, but back with a chance to develop the next Buck Allen whose emergence came under him in that tumultuous Lane Kiffin-less season finish.

And in this case, he gets to do it around a couple of guys who just missed 1,000-yard seasons – one from Texas, actually make that two guys from Texas -- and a tough young man Tommie got onto the field as a freshman – Justin Davis.

But as much as Justin Davis is the mature senior here and the man with the most carries last season (169 for 936 yards, a 5.5 average) and 12 in the Holiday Bowl, the running back everyone can’t wait to see is Ronald Jones. All RoJo did was break Heisman Trophy winner Charles White’s freshman rushing record and join LenDale White as only the second freshman to lead the Trojans in rushing with 987 yards on 153 carries – a 6.5 average.

Which is why we ranked Ronald as our No. 3 player overall who must come through for USC. Here’s what we said: “Again, lots of ways to go here but when you have the kind of game-changing ability that the record-breaking freshman now sophomore from Texas has, you have to both recognize it and go to it. No more eight-carry games (for 47 yards) like the Holiday Bowl. He can do those special things you can't teach. But for the things you can, we're assuming that he'll be much better catching the ball and pass-protecting the quarterback with Tommie Robinson's arrival.”

As for Justin, we had him at No. 10 on our list. Been a while since two of Trojans’ Top 10 players were running backs. Here’s what we said: “No team knows better than USC how much you have to have multiple running backs. Even more so this season. And with Justin the senior here, he clearly has to be the driving physical force that sets the tone -- the "Thunder" to RoJo's "Lightning."

And the more anyone listened to and watched Justin over his junior year, they realized how seriously he had taken the step up to the leader of the running back corps with Tre Madden’s unfortunate season-long injury.

Although that doesn’t mean he’ll lead in carries again. USC must figure out how to get the ball more to RoJo, who finished as a top-15 guy nationally with his 6.5 yards a carry and is a threat to take it all the way any time it’s handed to him.

Not that this is a two-man show. Don’t forget RoJo’s fellow Texan Aca’Cedric Ware, more of a bulldog, slasher type who played in 10 games as a freshman, gaining 36 yards on a dozen carries and scoring one TD.

We listed Aca’Cedric as our No. 31 Trojan, saying this: “If it weren't for the talents of the RoJo/JD duo ahead of him, the tough freshman-no-more from Texas would be higher here in this run-first offense. He'll be ready to step in, no doubt. He'll benefit from the arrival of another recent Texan, T-Rob.”

Speedy freshman Dominic Davis actually had the better of it stats-wise, playing in all 14 games with 14 carries for 69 yards (4.9 average) and seven catches for 102 yards (a 14.2 average). And even though he mostly won’t line up behind the quarterback, he’ll give USC a different dimension out of the backfield. Although we may not get to see much of that this spring as he joins Adoree’ Jackson on the track and field circuit.

And finally, in the first season we’ve seen a USC team without a fullback, you could see more of tough walkon James Toland IV, who played in 10 games, much of the time on special teams, with three carries for 23 yards (a 7.7 average).

One thing to watch out for: Does USC go the direction it did in 2011, as Clay Helton says it might, by drafting a linebacker type as a blocking back at the point of attack with an H-back the way it did so successfully that season with Ross Cumming?

RUNNING BACKS

Dominic Davis, So., RB/SR

Justin Davis, Sr., RB

Ronald Jones, So., RB

Stefan Smith, So., RB

James Toland IV, Jr., RB

Aca’Cedric Ware, So., RB

Fourth in a series of spring position previews for the 2016 Trojans. Next: receivers.

Here's the spring practice info:

*** The dates of USC’s 2016 spring football practices are: March 8-10-12-22-24-26-29-31-April 2-5-7-9-12-14-16.

*** Spring practice times: Tuesday and Thursday practices at 3:30 p.m., Saturday practices at 10 a.m. (except the April 16 Spring Game at 3 p.m.). All practices will be held on Howard Jones Field/Brian Kennedy Field on campus, except for two practices at the Coliseum (March 26 and the April 16 Spring Game).

*** All of USC spring practices will be open to the public for viewing from a designated area on the east side of Howard Jones Field (north of Goux’s Gate) or from the south stands at the Coliseum.

. *** USC's Spring Game will be Saturday, April 16, at 3 p.m. in the Coliseum. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door (or online on USCTrojans.com).

*** USC's Pro Day is March 23 at 10 a.m. on Loker Stadium’s Cromwell Field. It is closed to the public.

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

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