While the Trojans have depth issues on the defensive line and until recently, the offensive backfield, the USC secondary could be the strongest unit on the team in terms of depth, as all four starters from 2011 return, with the unit going into the season with 80 total starts between them.
The secondary is anchored by T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling, who all have two full seasons as starters under their belt. McDonald and Robey have been earmarked as members of the Thorpe Award Watch List, while Starling was probably the most improved player on defense for the Trojans a year ago. Let’s start off by looking at the cornerbacks.
Cornerback: Nickell Robey, Junior
Anthony Brown, Redshirt Sophomore
Ryan Henderson, Redshirt Freshman
Kevon Seymour, Freshman
Cornerback: Isiah Wiley, Senior OR
Brian Baucham, Redshirt Senior OR
Torin Harris, Redshirt Junior
Devian Shelton, Freshman
At corner, the Trojans return arguably the best corner to play at Troy since Jason Seahorn, Nickell Robey. He comes in as a true junior and is possibly the best candidate to become USC’s first All-American at cornerback. Robey had 63 tackles as a sophomore, and despite having just two interceptions, his timely pick against Andrew Luck was arguably the most exciting moment of the 2011 season.
Robey’s been an interesting player for the Trojans, in the sense that he’s probably the defining player of the Lane Kiffin era. He committed to Kiffin back at Tennessee and took a leap of faith to follow him to Southern California. Following the death of his mother, he’s played with a chip on his shoulder and a strong work ethic, and has been remarkably poised throughout his adversity, never complaining. The Trojans as a whole fit that same bill, as they stuck with Kiffin and kept grinding to get through the adversity of NCAA sanctions.
It’s Robey’s work ethic that’s earned him every down he’s played for at USC, as well as honors that include 2011 First Team All-Pac-12. As a junior, he’s set to be a leader for the younger guys to lean on this year, and just as Robey tends to do, he’ll lead by example.
Across from Robey at corner will be Isiah Wiley, who started the final six games of the season last year. Wiley got his break after injuries to Torin Harris and Anthony Brown gave the junior college transfer an opening. He had 39 tackles for the season, including 11 in the classic game with Stanford at the Coliseum.
Wiley should continue in his progression as player this camp, given that he’s already impressed coaches enough to hold off the guys he Wally Pipped, both Harris and Brown.
Harris started the first four games of the season in 2011, being a big part of the winning plays in each of the first two, with a late game interception against Minnesota and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown as time expired against Utah. An injury against Arizona State lost him for the rest of the year, but given his strong play at the beginning of the year, you have to figure that he’ll get a strong look from Kiffin in camp, as the de facto ‘1A’ option to Wiley.
Anthony Brown took over for Harris and got his first start against Arizona, and had a tremendous game for a first-timer, recording 10 tackles. However, he broke his left ankle the following week against Cal,and was lost for the season, just like Harris. Just as Harris, expect Brown to get reps early and often both in camp and in early games against Hawaii and Syracuse.
The Trojans have two weeks to get ready for conference play and a trip to Stanford on September 15th, and those will be two opportunities, along with the preceding camp, for Wiley, Harris and Brown to make their statement as full-time starters.
If they falter, redshirt senior Brian Baucham and a trio of freshmen, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton and Kevon Seymour will be waiting in the wings. Baucham was a reserve in 2010, making 20 tackles, before he was forced to miss all of 2011 due to academics. Henderson redshirted in 2011, but was an Under-Armour All-American in 2010, in addition to winning the SPARQ national title. Both Shelton and Seymour enter the fray as true freshmen, with the latter being more highly touted, as a Super Prep All-American selection.