Pinner hoping for breakout season

Back in April, USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin revealed that he wanted to see more offensive production out of a fullback position that accounted for a total of just 76 combined rushing and receiving yards last season. Well, if the way sophomore Jahleel Pinner has performed during the past week is any indication at all, it’s safe to say Kiffin will get his wish in 2013.

Building off a stellar showing in the spring that had running backs coach Tommie Robinson calling him the most improved member of his group, and with last year’s primary starter at fullback, Soma Vainuku, sidelined for a vast majority of fall camp, Pinner has been one of the major bright spots for the Trojans.

“It’s going good for me right now,” said the 6-foot, 235-pound Pinner. “I’m just taking my opportunities as the coaches give them to me. I still have to capitalize on some things -- work harder and work on my technique, but so far I’m doing good, and I feel like I’m seizing the opportunity.”

Known primarily for his abilities as a gritty lead-blocker during his first season at USC, it’s Pinner’s pass-catching skills that have really turned heads as of late, with the latest instance coming during the Trojans’ workout on Sunday. On a play that showcased Pinner’s athleticism and soft hands, he hauled in a 20-yard touchdown reception from Cody Kessler on a wheel route despite tight coverage from freshman linebacker Quinton Powell. It was the type of catch Pinner has been making with great regularity this August, providing evidence that the USC offense will have a new weapon at its disposal this fall.

“When they recruited me, that’s one thing that they mentioned -- they wanted a kind of Stanley Havili type of player to catch the ball out of the backfield, running deep routes and stuff like that,” said Pinner, who had three receptions for 19 yards and one touchdown in the team’s most recent scrimmage. “So far, that’s what I’m doing right now, and I’m loving it.”

Of course, making plays out of the backfield isn’t exactly anything new for Pinner. As a high school standout at Mission Viejo (Calif.), he made 29 receptions over the course of his final two years, while also amassing more than 1,500 rushing yards. Having finally earned the trust of his coaches and teammates at USC, he’s now getting the chance to put those talents on display.

“Since high school, I’ve always had good hands,” said Pinner, who appeared in all 13 of the Trojans’ games in 2012, without recording a carry or catch. “I’ve always been used as a receiver. As long as they keep throwing me the ball, I’m going to catch it. It’s all about opportunities for me right now.”

But it’s more than that. Pinner has also garnered a reputation as a tireless worker, both on the field as well as in the film room. Combine that with the experience he gained on the field last season, and he’s also a much more confident player than he was a year ago.

“Definitely in my second year around, I’m a lot more comfortable with everything that’s going on,” Pinner said. “Especially this time around in fall camp -- I know all of the plays. I know basically everything that I have to do and I know more in terms of technique, and I don’t have to worry about memorizing or learning the plays or anything like that.”

With everything coming together, there is little doubt that Pinner looks poised to break out for the Trojans this season, and he couldn’t be more ready.

“I’m always up for any challenge,” Pinner said. “If they want me to take on a bigger role as a fullback, then that’s what I’m going to do.”