This time last season, USC’s secondary was a big strength, as T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Nickell Robey led an experienced group into 2012. Now, the trio is NFL bound and with Torin Harris getting put in the doghouse midseason, Lane Kiffin and Clancy Pendergast must find four new full-time starters.
It’s fashionable to pencil Su’a Cravens in at strong safety, and the free safety role had been considered Gerald Bowman’s to lose once five-star safety Leon McQuay III was re-routed to cornerback before spring camp. But now that word has come out that Bowman will miss all of spring camp for the second straight year, Josh Shaw and McQuay have very little margin for error in their pursuit of starting at free safety and cornerback, respectively.
For McQuay, he’s joined in a competition with Kevon Seymour, Devian Shelton, Ryan Dillard, Ryan Henderson, Anthony Brown and the aforementioned Torin Harris. During Tuesday’s first practice, Shelton may have made the biggest impression, if only for his blazing speed and ability to keep pace and make ground on Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor.
However, it still goes without saying that McQuay entered camp as a favorite to earn a top line on Lane Kiffin’s post-spring depth chart. But considering that Shaw’s placement at safety comes following a successful late-season jaunt at corner to replace Harris in 2012, Bowman’s injury ensures Shaw’s role as a free safety due to a lack of depth. That, in turn, virtually eliminates the chances of Shaw playing corner again, barring a Shaw-McQuay swap.
With Shaw tied to playing safety, the importance of McQuay and Shaw’s success is paramount as the Trojans are nearly out of plan B’s, unless two other corners step up and blow Pendergast away.
Demetrius Wright impressed the Kiffins numerous times in 2012, earning him an ‘AND’ next to his name on the depth chart alongside Starling in 2012. But alas, he plays strong safety along with Cravens. As for Dion Bailey, who is switching to safety from linebacker? He is not only out for the spring, but he’s also considered to be a strong safety and not necessarily in line to vie against Shaw.
With scholarship restrictions and injuries, now’s when the Trojans really need Shaw and McQuay to make it threw spring at optimal health. USC does not want to go into fall camp both being forced to break in a new secondary in earnest, and one partially void of spring reps.