When wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. lines up across from cornerback Iman Marshall, it is easy entertainment.
Pittman, a junior, stands 6-feet-4 and 215 pounds and is the biggest of USC’s starting receivers. Marshall, a senior, measures 6-feet-1 and 205 pounds, a menacing stature for a college defensive back.
Starting with Friday’s seven-on-seven drills and continuing into Saturday, USC’s quarterbacks have put their talents on frequent display, firing an array of deep routes Pittman’s way and asking Marshall to live up to his nickname, “Biggie.”
The play of the day Friday came when JT Daniels hit Pittman for a 40-yard touchdown pass down the left side. The call asked for a simple stutter route, but Pittman knew that Marshall routinely detects double moves. So he turned the route into a more defined out-and-up, which threw Marshall and opened the window for Daniels.
“He’s definitely the toughest corner out here,” Pittman said. “You kind of have to put some extra sauce on it for him.”
A few plays later, Pittman gave Marshall another helping, beating him again down the left sideline before dropping Daniels’ pass in the end zone. Call it a Biggie bailout.
“He got me a couple times,” Marshall said. “I didn’t have my best day, but I gotta get after it tomorrow and come back better and stronger.”
Marshall was reminded that he started Friday’s session with two straight breakups of shorter routes to Pittman from Matt Fink.
“That ain’t good enough for me,” Marshall said. “Pittman did a great job today. … He’s a great player, a great athlete. He’s out there with the ones for a reason. He is one of our premier receivers. He really showed that today.”
Marshall, a former five-star prospect out of Long Beach Poly, returned to USC for his senior season to turn himself into a first-round pick. He did not return to get sauced by Pittman. At one point, he shoved Pittman as he rode him out of bounds. The players are wearing helmets without pads the first two days and aren’t supposed to hit.
“It was a little bit uncalled for, and I apologized,” Marshall said.
After Friday’s practice, Pittman appeared unfazed and ready for more.
“He’s been a leader since he’s been here,” Pittman said. “Sometimes I get complacent a little bit. Having him out there always makes me work harder.”
Quarterbacks take heat
While Friday’s team drills went to the offense, Saturday’s went to the defense as the Trojans dialed up more defensive pressure to further test USC’s young quarterbacks.
“They’re going to face even more,” coach Clay Helton said. “That was the last seven-on-seven drill they’ll have for a long time. It will be more pass-rush situations where they have to get comfortable in the pocket, get the length of that defensive line with hands up to be able to find throwing lanes. We’re going to make it as hard as possible with this evaluation period. The more we do it, the better they’ll become at it. Today was just OK. We gotta get better.”