USC Fall Camp Preview: The Safeties


Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Earlier this morning, we started to look at USC’s deepest unit, the secondary, with a breakdown of the cornerbacks. Now, we’ll look at the Trojans’ depth at safety.

Strong Safety: Jawanza Starling, Senior ORDemetrius Wright, JuniorGerald Bowman, Junior

Free Safety: T.J. McDonald, SeniorDrew McAllister, Redshirt SophomoreJosh Shaw, Redshirt Sophomore

A couple of weeks back on Reign of Troy Radio, we were joined by Michael Felder of In The Bleachers and Bleacher Report, who lauded McDonald’s play, calling him the third best overall player in the game, behind USC’s Matt Barkley and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. It’s big praise, but for McDonald, the storyline going into this season has to be how to keep improving as a player, as opposed to his predecessor, Taylor Mays, who peaked as sophomore and was exposed in his senior season without Kevin Ellison next to him, playing strong safety.

McDonald gets the luxury of coming back with plenty of talent surrounding him, and with the bloodlines of the McDonald family name, he should be in the right mindset to take his game to an even greater level, beginning at fall camp.

Keeping at safety, Jawanza Starling has grown tremendously in his two years as Lane Kiffin’s starting strong safety. In 2010 he was exposed in pass coverage along with the rest of the youthful secondary, as the Trojans were en route to giving up a school record 30 touchdowns through the air, and an all-time worst 135.9 opponent’s passer rating.

Starling had 48 tackles in 2011, up 25 percent from his sophomore year, and stood out in pivotal moments for the Trojans, including having a big hand in the season’s turning point, with a 80-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown at Notre Dame. The play denied the Irish a chance of tying the game late in the third quarter, and was just one example at how Starling was able to finish off his plays as junior.

Senior Drew McAllister returns for one final go of it, and he’s a reserve safety for the Trojans that brings plenty of experience, with two career starts and 54 tackles. He had 22 tackles as a junior in 2011 and controversially started at Colorado in place of McDonald, who had been suspended for one half after his hit the week before on Stanford’s Chris Owusu. McAllister had three tackles against the Buffs, and added seven more the following week against Washington. He’ll serve as the backup to T.J. McDonald for the third straight season.

Josh Shaw comes in as a transfer from Florida, and will be able to play immediately. He started just one game as a Gator, but it came against then-defending National Champion Auburn, when he recorded six tackles. At USC, he’ll be battling with McAllister for the No. 2 spot at free safety behind McDonald, and should be lining himself for a chance at solidifying the starting job in 2013.

Demetrius Wright, a junior out of Corona, had a strong spring to get an ‘or’ label from Lane Kiffin at strong safety behind Jawanza Starling. He played in 11 games last season, making 13 tackles and seeing a ton of time on special teams. This will be his third year as a reserve, but expect him to get plenty of playing time to keep Starling fresh.

Lastly, Gerald Bowman will fill in behind Wright as a reserve strong safety. A candidate to redshirt, Bowman was one of the top players in junior college a year ago, and according to recruiting publications, was the top rated defensive incomer for the Trojans in the Class of 2012. He had 52 tackles while playing at Pierce College in 2011, and like Josh Shaw, should be positioning himself for a starting job next fall. This camp however, will be a stress-free indicator at just how talented Bowman is.