Davis aims to re­main a top rusher

USC tail­back, most pro­duc­tive back in spring, is at top of depth chart

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Gary Klein

Spring prac­tice once served as a spring­board for Justin Davis to land a spot in USC’s tail­back ro­ta­tion. Now he’s hop­ing it has boost are ed him to the top of the list for good.

Davis’ strong per­for­mance this spring has re­in­forced his sta­tus as the Tro­jans’ most ex­pe­ri­enced and pro­duc­tive tail­back go­ing into next sea­son. He and Tre Mad­den listed at the top of USC’s depth chart head­ing into Satur­day’s spring game at the Coli­seum.

Davis in­tends to demon­strate why he be­longs there to stay. “Hope­fully, I can get out there and

show the fans a lit­tle some­thing,” he said.

Two years ago, Davis grad­u­ated early from high school to par­tic­i­pate in spring prac­tice and get a head start on his col­lege ca­reer. The strat­egy worked. He was USC’s No. 2 tail­back in the 2013 opener.

But last year, Davis sat out most of the spring while re­cov­er­ing from an­kle surgery that ended his fresh­man sea­son. In the fall, with Mad­den side­lined be­cause of a foot in­jury, Davis served as Ja­vo­rius Allen’s backup dur­ing the Tro­jans’ 9-4 sea­son.

Now, Allen has de­cided to forgo his fi­nal sea­son of el­i­gi­bil­ity to make him­self avail­able for the NFL draft, which left Davis, walk-on James Toland IV and full­backs Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner as the only run­ning backs this spring.

Mad­den, a fifth-year se­nior who started the first six games in 2013, has been held out of most con­tact drills but is ex­pected to be phys­i­cally sound when train­ing camp be­gins in Au­gust.

Fresh­men Ron­ald Jones II, Aca’Cedric Ware and Do­minic Davis also will join the tail­back corps this sum­mer, giv­ing sec­ond-year Coach Steve Sark­isian op­tions.

“It’s just go­ing to feel a lot bet­ter to have more depth than we’ve had,” Sark­isian said.

The 6-foot-1 Justin Davis is no longer the rail-thin 17year-old who ar­rived at USC from Stock­ton High, a player who rushed for 361 yards and six touch­downs be­fore suf­fer­ing a bro­ken an­kle in the sev­enth game against Notre Dame.

His biceps and tri­ceps now bulge. Davis is listed at 195 pounds, but he said he has gained seven pounds of mus­cle since the end of last sea­son, when he rushed for 595 yards and four touch­downs and caught two touch­down passes.

“I’m the fastest I’ve felt in awhile,” he said.

He also has ma­tured as a run­ner.

“The game has slowed down tremen­dously for me,” he said, adding, “Now I can see how the lineback­ers are flow­ing, safety ro­ta­tions. . . . so many lit­tle things.”

Team­mates, es­pe­cially those on de­fense, have no­ticed.

“He’s looked amaz­ing,” line­backer Quin­ton Pow­ell said. “He’s mak­ing cuts half the peo­ple in the league can’t make.”

Davis said he has con­cen­trated this spring on re­fin­ing “tech­ni­cal stuff.” He also has worked to make sure the ball stays in his hands.

Last sea­son, Sark­isian pulled Davis from games sev­eral times be­cause of fum­bles.

“I was harder on my­self than the coaches were,” Davis said, adding, “At some points dur­ing the sea­son, I got kind of down on my­self a lit­tle bit. . . . My mind-set go­ing for­ward is that ‘it’s the next play, for­get about it.’ ”

Davis’ role in the up­com­ing sea­son will be dic­tated in part by Mad­den’s avail­abil­ity.

The 6-1, 225-pound Mad­den is work­ing to re­cap­ture the phys­i­cal con­di­tion that two years ago en­abled him to rush for more than 100 yards in four of the first five games.

Mad­den had over­come ma­jor knee surgery that side­lined him in 2012. A ham­string in­jury slowed or side­lined him in the sec­ond half of the 2013 sea­son, and he sat out last sea­son be­cause of what was ini­tially di­ag­nosed as a toe in­jury.

Mad­den took a ma­jor step this week when coaches in­serted him into 11-on-11 sit­u­a­tions, though none with di­rect con­tact.

The two vet­er­ans will be chal­lenged by a trio of new­com­ers.

Jones, 6 feet and 185 pounds, rushed for 2,009 yards and 28 touch­downs last sea­son at McKin­ney (Texas) North High. The 6foot, 200-pound Ware rushed for 2,440 yards and 34 touch­downs for Cedar Hill (Texas) High. Do­minic Davis, 5-10 and 185 pounds, is a dual threat as a run­ner and re­ceiver.

“They’re dif­fer­ent, maybe, in some of their strengths and weak­nesses but they are com­plete backs,” Sark­isian said.

Justin Davis this week re­called how vet­eran run­ning backs such as Si­las Redd showed him the way dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son.

Now, he will be the men­tor for young play­ers.

“I have enough ex­pe­ri­ence un­der my belt to show them the right way,” he said. “I know the play­book in­side and out. What­ever ques­tions they have, I think I can do a pretty good job of an­swer­ing.”

But Davis said he would ap­proach sum­mer camp with the same mind-set he uti­lized as a fresh­man.

“I have some things to work at,” he said. “Noth­ing’s go­ing to be given to me.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

USC TAIL­BACK Justin Davis breaks free of Ne­braska safety Corey Cooper dur­ing the Hol­i­day Bowl in De­cem­ber. Davis rushed for 595 yards last sea­son.

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