LOS ANGELES — Southern California running back Ronald Jones II has added 10 pounds since last season, but the most important three pounds might be on top of his head.

Jones cut off his dreadlocks last year and became college football’s Samson, struggling early on to demonstrate the same electric running he displayed as a freshman before rallying with a rushing touchdown in each of the Trojans’ final seven games. With his dreadlocks back in place since spring break, Jones believes he is ready to surpass the 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns he tallied without his signature locks.

“They a little heavy on my neck but it’s good to have them back,” Jones said Monday. “I feel like myself. I’m ready to go now.”

Jones entered training camp as the lead back and is working to show he can play all three downs. Pass protection and catching the ball were foreign concepts to the McKinney, Texas, native when he first arrived at USC, and veteran Justin Davis handled those responsibilities during the past two seasons.

With Davis’ graduation, Jones will get to show off his steady improvement in the passing game, even if he doesn’t feel completely relaxed as a receiver.

“I’m still not there yet, comfortable-wise,” said Jones, who has 18 career catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

Fortunately for Jones, new assistant coach Deland McCullough is there to help him refine those skills. McCullough worked with three future NFL running backs at Indiana, including Tevin Coleman, an all-around back now with the Atlanta Falcons.

McCullough has Jones catches passes from a machine after practice, while position drills emphasize footwork, hand placement and the leverage he will need to stop pass rushers.

“He’s got to be the guy out there to do everything,” McCullough said.

To prepare for an increased workload, Jones ate four meals a day and increased his workout regiment over the summer. Now weighing 205 pounds, he is noticeably bigger in the upper body. McCullough expects that added size will help Jones handle more wear and tear as USC plays a regular-season schedule without a bye week.

McCullough also tasked Jones with helping touted newcomer Stephen Carr adjust to college and prepare for the season. Jones had to make sure Carr was at player-organized workouts and throwing sessions.

“If Stephen ain’t with you, don’t come out,” McCullough said.

Jones appreciated the responsibility, even if it doesn’t come naturally as he prefers to lead by example. That’s starting to change in team meetings, however, with Jones speaking up and filling the role Davis held in years past.

“It’s different because when the younger guys don’t know a play they are looking at me and I used to look at him,” Jones said. “It’s cool being the older guy.”

Jones’ improvement is not lost on Aca’Cedric Ware, USC’s other junior running back from Texas. Even Jones’ running style has evolved, becoming more patient after relying purely on speed as a freshman. Ware couldn’t help but laugh while remembering Jones’ all-or-nothing approach.

“He is more — How do I say this? — like in tune with his abilities, like he believes in himself more,” Ware said. “It’s because the coaches worked with him, the team worked with him and we pushed him to get better so we don’t let him settle. And it shows.”


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