After their first week of spring practice, USC’s football team took a week off for spring break
Junior running back Ronald Jones II took full advantage, heading home to McKinney, Texas.
“I was just racing cars. Just eating. Turning up a little bit. Went to a concert.”
Jones also made sure he got his fix of Whataburger, the fast food burger chain based out of Texas. He ate there three times and even though he also ate at the well-renowned Hutchins BBQ, Jones said his favorite meal was Whataburger’s triple burger with onion rings and a red Fanta.
After chowing down all week, Jones admitted, with a sly grin, that he was a little rusty and a little out of shape getting back on the practice field Tuesday. His quick area burst and ability to get outside didn’t look affected.
Jones enters his junior season with a new role and a new position coach. No longer are he and fellow Texan junior rusher Aca'Cedric Ware the young guys learning from Tre Madden and then Justin Davis. Madden and Davis have graduated and now its on Jones and Ware to be the bell cows.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Jones said. “My role is changing, so I've got to get the offense to a fast start. Things like that. Kind of set the tone.”
That new role doesn’t come with any drastic overhauls in approach or running style. Nothing changes on the field, but the mindset throughout the practice week and in the position meetings is different. No longer can the group look to Davis to answer their questions or explain a mistake. Jones and Ware have to take over the leadership roles.
It’s still a work in progress, an adjustment to be made. The Texas duo is also adjusting to new running backs coach Deland McCullough, who comes over from Indiana to replace Tommie Robinson after he left to re-join Ed Orgeron at LSU.
McCullough brings an impressive track record of putting rushers in the NFL having coached Stephen Houston, Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, with Hoosiers top rusher Devine Redding likely to get drafted next month. Producing four NFL players in a six-year span is impressive for any position coach. It’s even more impressive when done at a mid- to lower-tier Big 10 school.
"We started doing our research on him and you looked at a guy that all of a sudden gosh almighty what a great evaluator of talent, but even more important how he developed talent,” USC head coach Clay Helton said of McCullough. “His recruiting skills, his evaluation skills and his developmental skills really showed, so we brought him in for an interview and he just blew us away from how first class he is.”
Helton said that McCullough reminds him of Robinson because he’s coaching non-stop, but Jones has noticed the differences more than the similarities.
“With T-Rob when you kind of mess up, he's kind of strict, but Coach McCullough he explains it and details it in to tell you,” Jones said. “Then if you don't do it right, there's consequences. He's definitely more of a teacher.”
The running backs have been give more tools and different ideas about the position both on the field and in the film room that Jones said he’s “never really thought about.” Helton has already noticed a difference in Jones.
“I like [McCullough’s] attention to detail and I can see the guys already progressing from it, especially RoJo right off the bat. You look at these first four practices and he's even doing some things that weren't showing up last year. Credit to his coach. He's already come in and made a little bit of a difference right now.”
Jones has run for 2,069 yards in 330 carries (6.3 avg) his first two seasons at USC. He’s scored 20 touchdowns on the ground and another two through the air. He’s rushed for 100+ yards on five occasions despite having only six career starts.
The hope is that a lighter, more athletic offensive line better suited for the outside zone running scheme where Jones excels and the addition of McCullough will help Jones build upon that, helping make him a top NFL prospect this year.
“He played running back at the professional level, so he definitely knows what we need to get there,” Jones said. “I like him a lot. He's helped out.”
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