Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
With kickoff to the 2013 season only days away, the well-documented competition between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek is not the only position battle taking place on the Trojans’ roster.
The Trojan secondary–littered with decent depth, though with unproven players and some interchangeable pieces– remains a fluid situation with all four positions of the secondary lacking a definitive starter, as each is designated with an “OR”. Taking it a step further are the safety positions, which has three players listed as co-starters at strong and free safety.
After practice on Sunday, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast confirmed what the depth chart revealed, stating he expects to utilize a rotation of players throughout the secondary on Thursday night.
The lack of clear-cut starters amongst the back four can be viewed as a hindrance or an opportunity. How you choose to view it may depend on whether you see the glass half full or half empty. Entering a season already surrounded with distractions (Lane Kiffin’s job security), the last thing Trojan fans want to see is more uncertainty being carried onto the field.
However, while the Trojans are relatively green in the secondary, there is not a lack of talent, which is key. Freshman safety Su’a Cravens enrolled at USC a semester early, and as the top-ranked prep player in the state of California for the 2013 class, figures to play a key role.
Although he is recovering from a torn menisucs, Cravens should benefit from the lack of an entrenched starter at the strong safety position and it would not come as a surprise should he ultimately solidify his presence as a full-time starter.
Dion Bailey, Josh Shaw, and Demetrius Wright figure to split time at free safety and perhaps in nickel packages, though if the play from the cornerbacks is lackluster, Shaw could be slid over to aid them.
Reports out of fall camp were that cornerback Kevon Seymour was impressive and he could potentially emerge as one of the lead corners for the defense. Listed as a co-starter with Devian Shelton, the question surrounding Seymour is if he’ll be able to adequately assume the role as a starter given his inexperience.
The other corner position is manned by a pair of Trojans who are experienced, but have had their collective ups and downs–Torin Harris and Anthony Brown. Harris and Brown have each battled injuries and if both can bounce back with productive seasons, it would provide immense help to solidifying the defense.
The competition between Kessler and Wittek has frustratingly yet to be resolved and while some questions may be answered in Hawaii, what if both quarterbacks match one another’s play, for better or for worse? Unlike with the secondary, rotating quarterbacks isn’t a strategy USC should consider or employ.
The hope is after the game against the Rainbow Warriors, one of the two quarterbacks will have stepped forward and outperformed the other, allowing the Trojans to solidify the competition at one position. Getting rotations set within the secondary will presumably require more time, perhaps even past the Trojans’ first four games. However, should it carry past those games, the future success of the team could be in jeopardy.
Also in somewhat of an unsettled state are the running backs. The depth chart lists Justin Davis, Tre Madden, and Silas Redd as co-starters. However, unlike with the quarterback and secondary positions, having a deck to shuffle in terms of running backs isn’t a bad problem to have — exemplified with news that Redd will not be traveling with the team to Hawaii.
Playing without the services of Redd will affect the Trojans’ rushing attack, but it does appear they have the horses to absorb the loss and should be able to rely on other options. Along with Madden and Davis, Javorius Allen may get an opportunity to shine.
As discussed in Monday’s Reign of Troy roundtable, the Trojans have the good fortune of opening their season with four manageable games. Needing to build depth, this should serve as the perfect opportunity for players in the Trojan secondary and backfield to gain much-needed experience.
The USC coaching staff finds itself between a rock and a hard place — having to develop depth without losing focus on their weekly opponent. Should Kiffin be able to lead to the Trojans to a successful season–which, by Trojan standards would mean 10 wins or more–it will go a long way in quieting his boisterous detractors.