Jordan Addison’s cornerback experience sets him apart for USC

It took just one step for Jordan Addison to know he had the upper hand.

The signs were there in the moments before the USC wideout’s dazzling 75-yard score last week, if you knew where to find them. First, there was the single deep Stanford safety, expected to deter USC quarterback Caleb Williams from chucking it downfield to the best deep-ball receiver in college football. Addison knew there was no need to worry; the safety would surely creep up to cover the underneath route in the slot, leaving plenty of open grass behind him.

The most crucial tell came from the cornerback across from Addison. The Trojans’ top receiver saw he was lined up on his outside shoulder, preparing for man coverage. So Addison obliged his preference, taking off toward his inside shoulder, before bursting into hyper drive on a deep post. There was no stopping him by that point.

“I made sure I kept him outside and had the whole left side of the field to work,” Addison said. “Caleb put up a good ball, hit me in stride and the rest is history.”

USC’s starting quarterback and its top receiver could be on their way to making history this season if their connection continues to develop. While Williams finds himself near the top of the early Heisman Trophy race, Addison’s four receiving touchdowns through two games at USC have him on pace to blow past the season school record of 16 shared by Dwayne Jarrett (2005) and Mike Williams (2003). Addison topped that season total last year, scoring 17 times for Pittsburgh on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award presented to the nation’s top receiver.

Most of those scores looked a lot like that deep shot at Stanford. Ten of Addison’s touchdowns last season came from at least 20 yards out and 28% of his targets came at that distance.

It’s not difficult to see why. Addison’s deep speed is undoubtedly his most dangerous asset, one that any self-respecting offensive coordinator would seek to exploit.

“Catching deep passes, that’s the fun part,” Addison said. “Just put the ball up in the air, and I’m gonna go get it.”

Growing up outside of Baltimore, speed was always the measure that mattered most to Addison.

“We used to race in the park all the time,” Addison said. “Elementary school all the way up, that’s all it’s been. Racing.”

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison runs after catching a pass to score a 22-yard touchdown.

USC wide receiver Jordan Addison runs after catching a pass to score a 22-yard touchdown against Stanford on Sept. 10.

(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

“Playing corner in my past, you know what they don’t want to do … Knowing their disadvantages, that helps out a lot.”

— Jordan Addison

He didn’t lose many of those races. Among the neighborhood kids, it gave Addison a certain cache.

“As a kid, when you’re fast, that’s how you get the females,” Addison said with a smile. “You beat somebody in a race.”

But speed was far from Addison’s only asset. Through Pop Warner, he played quarterback. At Tuscarora High, Addison was also an accomplished cornerback — talented enough, in fact, that Notre Dame offered him a scholarship as a defensive back.

The combination of those responsibilities would later give him an almost preternatural feel for the passing game. Teammates and coaches have regularly complemented his football IQ since his arrival over the summer.

“Playing corner in my past, you know what they don’t want to do,” Addison said. “They don’t like when you get up on their toes because it puts them in stress positions, where they just have to react. Knowing their disadvantages, that helps out a lot.”

Addison considered playing cornerback in college, but a conversation with his older brother, Michael, convinced him to stay at receiver, where he hoped to emulate the likes of Stefon Diggs and Calvin Ridley.

“He told me, ‘You need the ball in your hands,’” Addison recalled. “So I stuck with it, and I feel it’s been paying out.”

It didn’t take long for USC to understand, too, that the ball is best in his hands. Addison has twice as many catches (12) through two games as any other Trojans receiver, even though he’s had only the summer and fall to fit into new coach Lincoln Riley’s system and also forge a connection with Williams.

The connection with his quarterback, who also hails from the D.C. area, wasn’t always as smooth as it seems now.

“Worked through a lot of the kinks,” Riley said. “There were certainly times during camp where you could tell it just wasn’t quite there yet. But it just continues to build. They’re guys that have a lot of confidence in their abilities and confidence in each other.”

There was no shortage of confidence as Williams cocked back last Saturday and unloaded a 75-yard deep shot in Addison’s direction. It was just the second downfield pass Williams had attempted to Addison this season. But moments before the snap, as Addison searched the defense for clues, the receiver said he could sense Williams saw what he was seeing.

He knew Addison had outside leverage. So Williams snapped the ball, looked off the single high safety and let it rip, knowing he could count on his speedy top receiver to be there when it landed.

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