USC receivers work on timing and catching deep passes

USC receivers work on timing and catching deep passes
USC receiver JuJu Smith is tackled by California defensive end Noah Westerfieldafter making an eight-yard catch againstthe Golden Bears on Nov. 13. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

USC receiver JuJu Smith knows his destination — and how to get there efficiently.

That was not always the case last season when Smith caught 54 passes, five for touchdowns, as a freshman.


"I was just out there, just running just to run and just catch balls — not knowing where I was going," Smith said after Tuesday's practice in the rain. "I just know that I had to be at that spot, and get to that spot and catch the ball."

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith focused this spring on improving his route running. He said he was "way better" after refining his footwork.

"The quarterback has steps, we have steps and the timing's just right," Smith said.

Through the spring, which concludes with Saturday's spring game at the Coliseum, quarterback Cody Kessler also has improved timing with receivers Adoree' Jackson, Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell, Ajene Harris and newcomer Isaac Whitney.

On Tuesday, Kessler and other quarterbacks completed multiple deep passes to receivers.

The longer routes were a point of emphasis, especially for Jackson, who almost certainly will play more snaps on offense this season in addition to starting at cornerback.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson had been "very good" on short and intermediate routes.

"The next level of his game is catching those deep balls," Sarkisian said.

Whether USC takes more shots downfield in 2015 remains to be seen.

Sarkisian on Tuesday made reference to his time working as the Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach in 2004, and when he interviewed with the late Al Davis to become the NFL team's head coach after the 2006 season.

"His theory was you should throw two deep balls a quarter," Sarkisian said, noting that the attempts, completed or not, can open other opportunities in the passing game.

"We don't hold hard and fast to that number," Sarkisian said, "but it is an easy number to kind of target. To say, 'Hey, if we do that we could make it pretty hard on our opponents, especially with the talent that we have.'"

Quick hits

Sarkisian said he was still working out the format for Saturday at the Coliseum, which will once again be dictated by depth. "I would love to split up teams and play a game and split up the staff and do all kinds of stuff," he said. "We're just not there yet. Maybe a year from now."



Defensive lineman Claude Pelon was absent to focus on academics, Sarkisian said.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein