His potential as a former five-star prospect has never been questioned. But now that Raleek Brown is entering his second season at USC, his future position could be.
The electric Santa Ana Mater Dei High product played strictly running back as a freshman, totaling 402 yards and six touchdowns in a season slowed early on by a high ankle sprain. This spring, however, Brown has largely settled into the receiver as USC experiments with new ways to incorporate the dynamic all-purpose athlete into its offense.
USC coach Lincoln Riley said the intention of moving Brown this spring is to “get a full idea of what he can really handle.”
“We pushed him mentally,” Riley said. “He did a good job of replying. We’re putting him in some new positions. He’s learning, but he also has a natural athleticism and a blast that makes him fit for a lot of places.”
Where Brown would best fit on a football field had been a question long before he arrived at USC. As a freshman at Stockton Edison High, Brown caught 31 passes for 741 yards, averaging nearly 24 yards per reception. During his first two seasons at Edison, he caught 18 touchdowns.
At Mater Dei, Brown played more of a small receiver role, catching 12 passes in nine games. But over the course of his senior season, then-Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson began experimenting with fielding Brown all over the field or moving him to create mismatches. The threat of his speed alone forced the defense to pay attention.
“He could take over a football game anytime,” Rollinson said last fall.
Brown showed flashes of that game-changing potential as a freshman, even striking a Heisman pose after scoring his first touchdown in USC’s season opener. But the ankle injury he sustained that first Saturday persisted. Brown was limited to 21 touches in the following nine games, hampering his progression.
It wasn’t until November that he finally got back on track, finishing USC’s last five games with four touchdowns.
“That kind of put him on hold,” Riley said in early March when asked about Brown’s ankle injury. “I think his role and what he was able to do at a high level has grown over the year and I think the off-season was a good opportunity to take a step back and really identify with him: ‘Here’s what you did well , here you need to be more consistent, more reliable and really understand the whole offense and your role in it. ”
That wasn’t always the case in his freshman season, as Brown sometimes struggled to assume his responsibilities without the ball in his hands.
“Certainly he’s an explosive player and you want those guys out there, but those players have to be able to play the games when they don’t have the ball,” Riley said. “That’s what he improved on and that was our boost for him, that natural leap as a sophomore where you really understand offense, your preparation goes up, your mental focus goes up. … I have a feeling he’s growing up. He’s handled things better this offseason, his approach is better so he just has to keep going.
Coaches say he accepted the challenge. In response, they added another position to his plate.
Brown played a snap from the slot last season. Now he’s spending most of his time there, learning a new role that he may not even be in in the fall.
At least his quarterback likes what he’s seeing so far, although Brown has yet to learn the finer points of the position.
“He’s a special guy, a special talent,” Caleb Williams said of Brown. “His hands are a lot better than probably what people think. His route is on, we’re working on it. He played running back for a year, and in high school he often didn’t run the tracks he runs now. We’re working on it, but he has a natural talent for it.”
How much he will use this talent at the receiver in the fall has yet to be determined. But the depth USC suddenly has running back makes it a lot easier to put Brown in the slot instead.
Riley said Tuesday that USC’s running backs were “a real bright spot” during spring training. Both he and running backs coach Kiel McDonald especially praised the true newcomers A’Marion Peterson and Quinten Joyner.
“These two young guys are going to be very good players at USC, very good players,” McDonald said.
It remains to be seen where Brown will remain in a possible five-man rotation. But for now, USC’s backfield depth means more time for Brown elsewhere.
“Since we have five guys back there that we’re pretty excited about, we were able to move Raleek,” Riley said. “We’re just trying to evaluate exposing these guys to a crowd and then we’ll start narrowing it as we get closer to the fall.”
Source : www.latimes.com