It has become almost routine, Ronald Johnson on the receiving end of a long pass from Matt Barkley.
Those plays came in bunches Thursday. One saw Barkley recognize a corner blitz and immediately hit an uncovered Johnson for a touchdown. Another came during a red zone drill with the senior tiptoeing the back of the end zone. Still another saw him come across the middle and dive in for a score.
"He's become the go-to guy because he makes plays, not because he's been given it," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's exciting to see."
Now wearing the NFL-friendly No. 83, Johnson has emerged as perhaps the best and most consistent player for the Trojans this spring. His ability to work short and intermediate routes has been a welcome development.
"I wanted to work on stuff like that, little routes like underneath routes and be a complete player," he said.
"By me going underneath, it confuses defenses. They think I always go deep, going underneath and finishing with the ball, it can be unstoppable sometimes," Johnson said.
Much of the improvement has come from daily battles with corner Shareece Wright, each man looking every bit the potential All-American.
"We always check back and forth, just to figure out like what route did you run, what technique are you in," Johnson said. "We're helping each other out to be great."
Johnson has also made it a point to develop more chemistry with Barkley, both on and off the field.
"I tried to hang with him as much as possible," Johnson said. "When he goes out, I'm going out with him. Tried to be at his side all the time, just understand what he knows and try to pick his mind a little bit and we connected from there."
What forms did it take?
"Man, he'll play the guitar and I'll sit there, listen and sing."
It has made a difference, according to Kiffin, pointing to times when plays have broken down.
"They have made a couple plays now where they're not been in rhythm, which is how football happens a lot of times," he said.
"The rate they are going, it's going to be a special combination."
‘Real football' for Cameron
At just 237 pounds, Jordan Cameron isn't yet physically ready for the trench warfare demanded of tight ends.
"On Tuesday, Armond [Armstead] lit me up," he recalled.
But the fifth-year senior is getting there.
"Everyday you get better," Cameron said. "As the weight comes with me and the more I learn, it will get easier."
He has already shown the receiving skills and athleticism to make a difference, taking a quick dump off for a long catch-and-run against the blitz, later adding a one-handed snag.
"It's a better fit for me. I'm not the fastest guy in the world, my footwork is not the greatest to be a receiver at this level. Being at tight end, I can move better against linebackers," he said.
Being more involved as a blocker, both in the running game and as a pass protector, is what's new.
"I never knew I would be down in the trenches, grinding down there but I like it. It's more football, more physical," Cameron said.
"Out wide at receiver, you don't get into the mix of things and hitting people. Real football."
But there are limits to getting in the mix, as Cameron accidentally stepped on safety T.J. McDonald's hand, one of the risks of playing at the line of scrimmage.
"His finger was all messed up. I feel bad a bit."
-Linebacker Chris Galippo (back) and offensive tackle Kevin Graf (stinger) returned to practice. Wide receiver Devon Flournoy (hamstring) did not participate and could be out for several days.
"We don't know if he'll be back all the way until next week," Kiffin said.
-Kiffin had high praise for Barkley, who turned in one of his best practices to date.
"He continues to throw the ball extremely well down the field, continues to grow within our offense. We just need to continue to push him, continue to add onto his plate," Kiffin said.
He took it one step further, this time in the context of the battle between Barkley and Mitch Mustain.
"Yeah, Matt has taken a little bit of a lead. Mitch is playing well, a few too many turnovers and decision-making. But Matt is playing really, really well and Mitch is playing good."
-Beverly Hills defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. and a large contingent from Long Beach Poly attended practice, including defensive end Corey Waller.
Jordan Cameron is having a solid spring at tight end.
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