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USC

USC defensive back Iman Marshall playing up to his potential

Iman Marshall took the advice in stride.

USC coach Clay Helton and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast told the senior cornerback that he needed to practice harder and with better focus this spring.

“They came to me honestly,” Marshall said after practice Thursday. “Told me what I needed to improve on and I looked at that as a challenge.”

Helton was fearful that Marshall might feel too comfortable in his role since he was a three-year starter.

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Pendergast knew that Marshall, a former five-star recruit from Long Beach Poly High, could perform better given his natural ability.

“He’s really taken a lot of ownership in what we’ve talked about,” Pendergast said. “And really shown a lot of leadership skills going into his senior year.”

On Thursday, Marshall stripped the ball from running back Vavae Malepeai.

It was his second takeaway in the last three practices, though he nearly had one each day.

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“It’s a shut-up-and-work mentality,” Helton said. “A blue collar mentality and I have not seen the guy take one rep off. He’s not been lazy in one rep.”

Earlier this week, Marshall dropped a pass by Matt Fink that hit him in the hands and last Saturday during a scrimmage, Marshall stripped receiver Tyler Vaughns of the ball and returned it for a touchdown.

“I’m just implementing what I’m learning in these drills,” said Marshall, who made 52 tackles last season, but did not intercept a pass or force a turnover.

Teammates have noticed improvement.

“He looks way more physical than last year,” cornerback Ajene Harris said. “He’s more tuned in everyday and he’s more assignment-perfect.”

Marshall has three interceptions and has deflected 27 passes in three seasons.

He considered making himself available for the NFL draft following a loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl but chose to return.

“I’m always looking for room for improvement and to better myself,” Marshall said. “I’m trying to be the best corner to come out this year so I got to do everything in practice like I want to be the best.”

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Good hands

Harris robbed receiver Velus Jones Jr. of a touchdown reception Thursday.

The fifth-year senior cornerback made a quick move in the end zone to step in front of Jones and intercept a pass by Jack Sears.

Harris bobbled the catch before eventually securing it as he went to the ground.

“Really great play,” Helton said.

Harris was a seldom-used backup receiver as a freshman. He did not play in 2015 after undergoing hip surgery and switched to cornerback as a third-year sophomore.

Now in his final spring, he said he felt “very comfortable” on defense.

“When I first came over here I was struggling and I could feel like my feet wasn’t in the right place when I was making different breaks,” Harris said. “Year three, I’m just trying to correct those things and get better at it.”

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No spring game

USC will practice, but will not scrimmage, in a final spring workout Saturday.

The Coliseum is unavailable to host a spring game as it undergoes renovations.

To accommodate fans, the practice is scheduled for noon on Cromwell Field.

Etc.

Chase McGrath made a 50-yard field goal Tuesday… Tyler Petite was sidelined because of a “tweaked hamstring,” Helton said… Chris Brown was sidelined because of a shoulder injury… Andrew Vorhees underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus… Former assistant Pete Jenkins, part of former coach Ed Orgeron’s staff, attended practice.

lindsey.thiry@latimes.com

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry


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