Banner spring for big guys Zach and Max

Seniors count this spring although Zach Banner's numbers -- on the scale -- are headed down while Max Browne's end-of-practice day-winning TD numbers are headed up.

Neil Callaway gave his big star pupil up after practice Tuesday as he talked about where he thought his senior O-line leader, Zach Banner, was right now. Other than playing both tackle spots.

”A big, physical specimen,” Callaway said. “Great attitude . . . hard worker . . . he was 389 pounds the day I walked in here in January. He’s about 360 now . . . he has some more to go.”

What Callaway didn’t realize was how Banner had just told us after practice that he’d “dropped 30 pounds,” but what he weighed was to remain a secret for. “I won’t give you the number . . . later maybe.”

No need to, Zach. Now we know. And it’s obvious he’s dropped 30. “My pad level,” the 6-foot-9 senior says. He’s flexible and quicker-footed now. “This is one of the 100 reasons I came back.”

But that’s not all. When he sat down for his one-on-one with Clay Helton, one of 90 the coach had with his entire squad this winter, he was told to “keep my head down and keep working hard,” Zach says. Not that he has any choice at the pace of practice for the linemen on both sides of the ball.

”That’s why we’re so dog tired at the end of practice,” Zach says, “with more plays, more reps and more tempo.”

”As long as he keeps working, he’s got a chance,” said Callaway, who likes the fact that “these guys are focused on winning a championship.”

”He’s one of the best offensive tackles in the Pac-12,” Helton said, “and he could be one of the best in the country. But he can’t waste a second.”

He’s not, Zach says. “Every single day I’m getting better.” And no, he doesn’t “hate’ the tough-love coaching of Callaway saying he reminds him “of my dad, Ron Banner," his pee wee football coach, if you could ever imagine Banner as a “pee wee” player.

“If you’re bothered by a coach yelling at you," Zach says, "you shouldn’t be out here.”

Max making most of it

Just like the last practice nine days ago, Max Browne ended Tuesday’s return-from-spring-break session with an on-time, on-target perfect 15-yard TD throw to send the defense running on the final play of the day. His target? A reborn Ajene Harris, back from double hip surgery last August and September and faster than ever, Ajene says. The two did lots of work this winter, Max said, and it’s paying off for both of them.

With the cover guy taking away the inside in man, they both knew where Tee Martin wanted the ball to go. “I knew it was coming to me,” Ajene said, and he’d be going away at the boundary. “A great call by Coach Martin,” Max said. "A winner play."

“Great throw by Max, a shout-out to him,” said Ajene, who contends not only is he quicker after the surgery, “I’m more mobile . . . I feel great.”

So does Max about how the fight to be the next USC quarterback is going. “It’s not a competition between me and the quarterbacks behind me,” he said, meaning it just that way. He goes first. They go next in all the drills and team stuff. But then he realized how that may have sounded and revised it a bit to say he meant "the quarterbacks with me.” But we get the picture. And he’s right. They are “behind” him as they should be.

And they’re coming off the best-attended winter throwing sessions Max said he’s ever been a part of and it shows, even if there are lots of young guys. There are plenty of vets starting with himself, Juju Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and on and on.

That’s helped them pick up some new offensive concepts – “a lot of Western Kentucky stuff,” Max says of the quick-hitting, get-the-ball-to-guys-in-space offense that propelled WKU to the top of the national offensive heap the last couple of seasons.

“It’s just some different concepts,” Max says. “It feels a little more open this year.”

Quick hitters here

Lots of guests and visitors today from former players like Al Cowlings and donor Wayne Hughes to most of last year’s grads who are here for Pro Day Wednesday, starting at 8 indoors for the weights and fitness testing and moving outside to Cromwell Field after 10 for the football testing . . . Not open to the public per NCAA rule . . . Clay said he was happy to have two veteran big-time line coaches checking out today’s practice with his dad, Kim, doing the offensive honors and consultant Pete Jenkins, here for a month, doing it for the defense and Kenechi Udeze . . . Players limited or missing Tuesday: LB Osa Masina with a hamstring he was working hard to rehab; WR Michael Pittman with a sore collarbone limiting him to individual stuff and DT Noah Jefferson with a sore back he’ll get MRI’ed Wednesday . . . Clay also said he’s really looking toward Saturday’s live game-situation scrimmage at the Coliseum to see who does what ”when the bullets start flying.”

*** For more details on today’s practice, check out Tuesday Spring Day 4 Ghost Notes.

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