USC football Spring Camp: Markese Stepp making case for playing time

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Markese Stepp has been one of the bright performers of USC football Spring Camp so far, making his case for a role in the Trojan offense in 2019.

Focus on Faster. SPRING CAMP NOTES

When USC football started the transition to the Air Raid, the question on the tip of many fans tongues seemed to be, “What does that mean for the running backs?”

New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has answered the questions multiple times, so has head coach Clay Helton. Both have pointed to Harrell’s commitment to the semblance of balance at North Texas. The importance of the run game has not been underplayed.

CHECK OUT: Five things we learned from Week 2 of Spring Camp

Even so, the role of each individual USC running back has yet to be determined.

In past stints, running backs coach Mike Jinks has tended to prefer using one featured back. Stephen Carr seems tailor-made for the Air Raid, while Malepeai proved himself to be an effective runner in 2018, but a one-back approach would make it difficult enough to fit both Carr and Malepeai into the offense. Things are further complicated by a third back vying for playing time: Power back Markese Stepp, a former four-star recruit out of Indianapolis.

Stepp had a total of seven carries during his redshirt season in 2018. The aim is to command many more than that in 2019. If the opening weeks of Spring Camp are anything to go by, he’s giving Jinks and company more and more reason to factor him into the plan for the coming season.

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When the full pads came on during the second week of Spring Camp, Stepp turned things up. He provided the highlight of Day 6 during an overtime simulation, keeping his feet through contact and turning up field, then dragging defenders with him to the 10-yard line. His next carry brought the ball just short of the goal line. From there, he took a hand off and leaped across the line and into the endzone.

Even before that impressive display, Stepp made a habit of punching the ball in for touchdowns at the goal line in practice.

The power in Stepp’s game has never been in question, but he’s also moving better than before, adding quickness to his game.

SEE MORE: How did USC NFL hopefuls perform on Pro Day?

“I feel great,” Stepp said. “I feel faster. I feel stronger. I feel better.”

He’s down from the 240 pounds he carried last season to a slimmer 230.

“I knew that playing in this offense I was going to have to have better conditioning and 240 was rough to be out there,” he said.

There are still areas of his game that need work. The Air Raid requires running backs to catch the ball out of the backfield and that is not Stepp’s forte.

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“I might have caught seven passes my whole high school,” Stepp said. He caught one last season at least.

In preparation for a growing role in the pass game, Stepp has put in work on the jugs machine. He also joined wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and John Jackson III in tennis ball drills to improve his catching.

Spring Camp performance is just one part of the equation for players seeking to break into the lineup, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be one of the standouts early in the offseason.

Stepp is making his case.