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2021 USC Football Fall Camp Report #6: Breaking Down the Running Backs

Aug 12, 2021

The Trojans were allowed to practice in full pads for the first time tonight, giving the tailbacks a chance to show what they've got in live action.

  • With the departures of Stephen Carr (transferred to Indiana) and Markese Stepp (transferred to Nebraska), the USC running backs room is looking a whole lot different than last season. Vavae Malepeai, who led the team in rushing a year ago, is the veteran stalwart, while Kenan Christon, who spent the spring running track, is the other scholarship returner.
  • Enter Keaontay Ingram, Darwin Barlow and Brandon Campbell. Ingram is a transfer from Texas, having rushed for 1,811 yards already in his career. Barlow spent the last two years at TCU, running for 429 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Campbell is the lone freshman in the room, sporting a four-star rep out of Katy, Texas.
  • Ingram is firmly in the mix to potentially start the opener, although he's banged up right now, after a huge spring showing, impressing RB coach Mike Jinks. "Number one is his character and the way he carries himself," Jinks said about Ingram's best quality. "He's a grown man. He brings a lot of leadership."
  • On the field, Jinks praised Ingram's suddenness, receiving ability and toughness.
  • Jinks is looking to pair down the tailback rotation this season to a "1a and 1b" backfield instead of running back by committee. Malepeai shares many of the same traits as Ingram, Jinks said, including trustworthiness in pass protection which is a key to staying on the field in this offense.
  • The two-back system is not so much about finding complementary pieces like a thunder and lightning, but finding the two best players to get the majority of the touches and snaps. "Production. That's what we are looking for," Jinks said. "When you're on the football field, our team is better."
  • Pass protection is the only thing slowing Kenan Christon down, Jinks said, because the San Diego speedster is a rocket with the ball in his hands. "10.2 can get to the end zone pretty dang quick," said Jinks about Christon, who he called out specifically for his great work in today's practice.
  • Typical of a true freshman, Campbell has some growing to do in pass protection as well. "He's very good with the ball in his hand," Jinks said about him. "With him, we've got to protect that quarterback."
  • While Barlow is technically still a freshman, having redshirted his first year and his second year not counting due to Covid, he does not play like a freshman. He has adapted instantly to the USC offense, having played in a similar system at TCU for OC Sonny Cumbie, a Mike Leach pupil much like Graham Harrell. "Really, he's a third year guy. He may be listed as a freshman, but this is his third year playing football," Jinks said. "He really looks like a vet right now. In his last six days, he hasn't had one bust."
  • While the competition rages on, the players are extremely supportive of each other, said Jinks, largely because Ingram and Malepeai have come together to lead the room and help everyone get better. "I feel like we do bring the best out of each other," Malepeai said about Ingram. "At the same time, we love to see each other win."
  • Malepeai has always been a selfless teammate. He explained that he's never been focused on being "the guy," saying, "At the end of the day, I want to see SC go."