I have previously stated that the Trojans will be woefully thin at running back this coming season. As of last week, Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan were the only two scholarship running backs on the depth chart. The only two, that is, until Tre Madden got the approval from Coach Lane Kiffin to try his luck at the tailback position.
Sitting behind names like Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, outside linebacker was not a position in which Tre was going to see a lot of playing time. Though only second on the depth chart (in my estimation), Madden is still far from seeing the defensive side of the ball barring a major injury to Bailey or Pullard.
That is one of the reasons that the move to running back was first suggested. That, and his freakish speed and size. Coach Kiffin claimed that Madden ran an electronically clocked 4.5 second 40 time which is among the fastest on the team (wearesc.com). Tre is also listed at 6’ 220 pounds. For comparison’s sake Ahmad Bradshaw of the NY Giants is listed as 5’10” and 214 pounds. Madden certainly fits the mold of a Marc Tyler (5’11” and 230 pounds) that can bowl people over, but also out run and out maneuver opponents in the open field.
Now the hunter becomes the hunted.
It’s not a done deal yet. While Madden has looked surprisingly impressive in his last couple practices according to Lane Kiffin and position coach Kennedy Polamalu, they are still hesitant to pencil him into the depth chart for the fall (Yahoo Sports). Still, it isn’t like Madden is going into this blind. At Mission Viejo High School, he was the star quarterback his senior year and also played linebacker. The idea of a ball in his hand isn’t foreign to Tre but what needs to change is his footwork.
Going from linebacker to running back features a major change in the way your feet have to move during the flow of a game. Linebackers like to rely on lateral quickness and prefer to use their feet to position themselves in such a way that they can slow the game down. This is a stark contrast to the type of runner Tre is though. He wants to be downhill and hit the hole as hard as he can. The game isn’t played in gaps anymore. Now, Tre needs to get used to using his feet to weave through lanes.
What will help Tre, though, is his thirst for contact. As a linebacker, Tre was a ball-hawker who loved to hit the hole and make contact. That will serve Madden well as a running back because it will allow him to run through tackles. Considering the 3 wide offense that Kiffin is trying to transition to, the ability to put in a physical running back who can run plays up the gut without the need for a fullback is priceless.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though. All of this is after only a few days of practice. Tre still has McNeal and Morgan ahead of him if he is looking for playing time. Further judgment on his transition to halfback should be reserved till after the Trojans next scrimmage. Still, Madden has shown a great deal of promise and USC fans should be rooting for a successful transition because the possibility of what Tre can add is valuable.
Until then, Madden will have to continue to work on his footwork and tucking the ball high as he goes up against his former linebacker buddies in practice. I think they are giving him more than his fair share of ribbing for that.