JuJu Smith lined up wide to the left side of the formation at Howard Jones Field during practice on Thursday afternoon. As USC went through an 11-on-11 period at practice, the freshman wide receiver from Long Beach Poly High School ran a streak up the sideline.
Max Browne delivered the ball to Smith and the freshman, against one-on-one blanket coverage, went up and snatched the ball out of the air.
It was good defense but better offense as Smith grabbed the ball out of the sky at its highest point.
It’s those types of plays that Smith has made since USC kicked off official practice at the beginning of the month.
Smith, one of the members of the 2014 USC recruiting class who was believed to play on both sides of the ball, has been so impressive offensively that head coach Steve Sarkisian has been reluctant to put him on the defensive side of the ball.
With camp wrapped up and the focus on preparing for Fresno State in the season opener on Aug. 30, it would be "pretty difficult" to incorporate Smith into the flow of the things on the defensive side of the ball.
"Quite honestly, he’s going to play so much for us offensively and he’s earned it," Sarkisian said. "It probably won’t be fair to him right now. He’s going to play quite a bit of offense for us and he deserves it.
"He’s just really good for us right now on the offensive side of the ball."
Smith says he would like a package defensively but his heart is on the offensive side of the ball. Before the season he was asked by members of the USC coaching staff which side of the ball he preferred to play on and he told them offense.
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He believes he has distinct advantages on that side of the ball.
"I always had a passion for receiver," Smith said. "People say I’m a good size to play safety (but) at the end of the day I’m using my size as a receiver to contribute to the offensive side of the ball."
So far it’s working. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds Smith has shown the ability to use his frame to go up and get balls as well as a shield against defenders.
Smith added to a group that includes Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers, and George Farmer gives the Trojans some punch at wide receiver.