The USC Trojans have lost their best cover corner for an extended period of time, for perhaps the best reason ever.
The school announced on Monday that senior Josh Shaw would be out indefinitely with a pair of high ankle sprains suffered while rescuing his drowning nephew.
Shaw’s nephew was ultimately unscathed, making the save successful, heroic, selfless and admirable, in every way imaginable.But alas, there’s football to be played in just four days.
And of course the Trojans now have to put the pieces together and replace one of their team captains for presumably several weeks.
Shaw led the Trojans in tackles a year ago with 94 and has 21 starts to his name, making him the most experienced player on the defense not named Hayes Pullard.
Without him, Troy will rely on a few unproven freshmen to play corner opposite of Kevon Seymour:
Chris Hawkins, RS-FR
Hawkins is Shaw’s immediate understudy on the Week 1 depth chart and will likely get the start on Saturday in the season opener against the Fresno State Bulldogs.
After redshirting in 2013 as a true freshman, Hawkins has put together two straight solid camps under new position coach Keith Heyward and has separated himself from the lower rungs of the depth chart.
Because of his play on the practice field, Hawkins was bound to get a significant amount of playing time this season as the Trojans rotate the defensive backs.
Shaw being out only increases his opportunity of cementing himself as a starter for the foreseeable future, perhaps even after Shaw returns.
Hawkins is limited to playing corner but might ultimately be the best cover man on the roster.
While Shaw is more than adept as a defender on the perimeter, he’s a natural safety. That could give the Trojans a plethora of options for nickel packages later in the season should Hawkins take root right off the bat.
Adoree’ Jackson, FR
Jackson has all of the promise in the world, and all of the talent to help fulfill that promise. But as a true freshman, he’s still raw and struggled to find consistency as a defensive back or wide receiver in fall camp despite his knack for highlight reel plays.
Make no mistake, Jackson looks to be an elite level cornerback in the Pac-12 at some point.
But right now, he’s probably best suited as a rotation player on offense and defense right now, while dabbling in special teams. He’s not in a position to start.
Should an injury to Seymour or Hawkins pop up, Jackson would likely wind up as a starter, but for now he’s the third option with Shaw out.
All things considered, that’s a place you want your star freshman to be in.
It gives him a competition to potentially go out and win, while still keeping the pressure off of him to pay dividends immediately at a position of need.
That said, Shaw’s injury all but guarantees you’ll see Jackson play at corner on Saturday evening.
Jonathan Lockett and Lamont Simmons, FR
True freshmen Lockett and Simmons have the talent to play immediately and have shown flashes of skill and development in camp. But in a perfect world, with the players ahead of them on the depth chart, you would probably prefer to redshirt them in an ideal roster situation.
Unfortunately for USC, this isn’t ideal.
Lockett and Simmons are listed as the third and fourth cornerback behind Kevon Seymour and Adoree’ Jackson, and are now in line to see the field as reserves in the cornerback rotation.
- John Plattenburg would also be a candidate to see action at corner, but he moved over to strong safety in camp and is now behind Su’a Cravens on the depth chart.
- Furthermore, it’s not entirely inconceivable that free safety Leon McQuay III could play corner. He dabbled there a year ago and is a plus-defender in pass coverage. The Trojans are somewhat thin at safety however. Only Cravens, McQuay and Gerald Bowman have experience at safety, and the trio fills two spots in the base defense and three in the Cravens-featured “dollar” package. In order for McQuay to move back to corner, it could take JuJu Smith coming over to defense. But that’s way too many position changes to try and fix a problem that could be solved with Chris Hawkins simply sliding up a peg on the two-deep. Plus, Smith has really impressed on offense.