The USC secondary will start the season with question marks. With safeties Taylor Mays and Will Harris now players in the NFL and starting corner backs Josh Pinkard and Kevin Thomas also graduating, the Trojan defensive backs will be stocked by the younger class hoping to be on par with the Trojan secondary of the past.
The free safety position looks to be covered by TJ McDonald. McDonald was ranked as the second best safety, 30th overall by Rivals.com in the class of 2008. He’s a hard-hitting heat-seeking missile whose mentor is now with the San Francisco 49ers (Mays).
Still, it’s early to judge a starter so early in the first month of practice, but Lane Kiffin and coaches, particularly secondary coach Willie Mack Garza, has seen the tools and skills McDonald displays during practice.
Behind McDonald at strong safety is junior Marshall Jones, who was originally a corner back but moved to safety in 2009. Jones had to red shirt because of a neck injury he suffered against Washington State last season, but has not seen much playing time in his whole career at USC.
In the strong safety position, the Trojans suffered a hip injury from junior Drew McAllister, who was thought to be the leading candidate to start at strong safety coming into the 2010 season. McAllister had hip surgery before spring practice and is currently conditioning to fight for the starting role.
He will be competing with Jawanza Starling. The two-sport star from Florida figures to be ahead of the injured McAllister and incoming freshman, Dion Bailey and Demetrius Wright. Both Bailey and Wright are ball hawks, which defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, can’t dislike.
At cornerback, the position seems much more established as it will be led by senior Shareece Wright, who is looking forward to bounce back from the setback from last season.
Kiffin has said Wright is far above any other corner on the roster with his coverage ability, instincts, and athleticism; he’s the model cornerback at USC and figures to be a top corner prospect as the NFL draft looms.
Junior, TJ Bryant, who is out three to four weeks with a broken cheek bone due to a confrontation with full back Stanley Havili, is the other corner who will start opposite of Wright. If Bryant cannot return healthy enough to start the first game against Hawaii on Thursday, Sept. 2, the position will be up for grabs.
Players who will be fighting for playing time will be redshirt sophomore, Brian Baucham, redshirt freshman Torin Harris, and freshmen Nickell Robey and Anthony Brown. Harris seems the most likely and may end up being the starter in front of Bryant for his play during practices. As for the freshmen, Robey has held his own against the older players and has impressed the coaching staff.
Robey, from Frostproof, Florida, was recruited hard when Kiffin was at Tennessee. The elder Kiffin admired Robey’s play and swayed him to come to USC after abruptly leaving Tennessee to USC.
The secondary are a questionable bunch, yet very talented. The defensive backs will be taught by one of the brightest defensive minds ever to coach in the NFL. Worrying won’t be necessary.