Adoree’ Jackson jogged past the line of scrimmage at USC’s practice on Monday, stopped and turned to face the defense.
Every so often, as if to serve as a reminder, the junior cornerback runs a few plays on offense during practice even though such opportunities have been scarce during games. This time, he blazed toward the corner of the end zone. The ball was lofted high and not quite far enough, so Jackson jumped, leaned over the defender’s helmet and plucked the ball out of the air.
“He’s just ridiculous,” Coach Clay Helton said. “He can go out there any time and make his play.”
Jackson’s offensive skills have apparently not deteriorated despite the disuse. Jackson didn’t play offense in USC’s first three games. In preparation for Utah, Helton began incorporating Jackson into the offense more often during practice as a way to spark to a languishing unit. But even then, he only took one handoff for 11 yards against the Utes and hasn’t returned to that side of the ball since.
Helton said USC’s strategy hasn’t changed. USC keeps about 20 plays built specifically for Jackson. Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin whittle the package down to four to six plays each week and present the possible game-day calls to Jackson.
Helton goes into each game, he said, with Jackson as an offensive option.
“Then you start to filter out: Are they kicking him the ball? Is he getting a touch? How many plays is he playing on defense?” Helton said. “And if you can get it to where he’s not tired, he’s capable of coming over and helping you and they’re not kicking it to him, you want to get it in his hands somehow some way.”
Since USC recommitted to playing Jackson on offense, the schedule has limited such opportunities. The Trojans have dominated most games since the loss to Utah, so Jackson has not been needed.
And the middle stretch of the schedule is loaded with up-tempo, pass-happy teams like Thursday’s opponent, California. Helton would rather keep Jackson on defense to avoid overtaxing him, though Jackson said he is not bothered.
“I think I have enough gas to go in there and not be winded and still be able to play,” Jackson said.
California’s offense often runs a head-spinning number of plays. Last week, it set the record for most plays in a game, 118, in a two-overtime win over Oregon. It would not seem an ideal opponent to see Jackson on offense.
But the equation has begun to change. Opponents have been reluctant to give Jackson chances on special teams. If the Bears followed the pattern, Jackson could appear on offense, Helton said.
“Teams are sky kicking and punting the ball out of bounds and not letting him touch it,” Helton said. “So you’ve got to be creative in finding ways of getting him the ball. He’s too special.”
Webb’s a gem
What should USC expect against Cal quarterback Davis Webb? USC’s coaches have given the defense a blunt assessment.
“They compare him to Jared Goff, that’s what our coaches tell us,” Jackson said.
The Bears lost Goff, who became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft to the Rams. Typically, such a departure is difficult to replace.
But the Bears might have acquired an even better passer this off-season, when Webb transferred from Texas Tech.
In seven games, Webb has accumulated statistics favorable to Goff’s first seven games last season. Webb has thrown for 2,581 yards, with 27 touchdowns, seven passes intercepted and a 62% completion percentage.
Goff completed 65% of his passes. But he’d thrown for fewer yards (2,265), fewer touchdowns (19) and had more passes intercepted (eight).
“He has Jared’s arm strength to make any throw on the field,” Helton said. “When he has time to just sit back there, he can dice you apart.”
And Cal’s offense has evolved with Webb and a new offensive coordinator. Webb has the freedom to change plays at the line and dictate run-pass options.
“I did not necessarily see that with Jared,” Helton said.
“I’m gonna tell you,” Helton continued, “the kid is ultra-talented.”
The prognosis for running back Justin Davis (ankle sprain) remained gloomy. Helton said he is doubtful to play on Thursday. … The bye week gave USC a chance to recover. Aside from Davis, no other player is expected to miss time.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand