1. Nickell Robey
2. Anthony Brown
Projected Post-Fall Camp Depth Chart
1. Nickell Robey
2. Anthony Brown
1. Drew McAllister OR Demetrius Wright OR Marshall Jones
1. T.J. McDonald
2. Jawanza Starling
1. Tony Burnett
2. Brian Baucham
Three Questions Answered in the Spring
1. Last year's inexperience is this year's experience.
That's where USC finished nationally in pass defense last season, allowing 259.54 yards per game.
Maybe it should have been expected, with a brand new secondary whose most ‘experienced' player, corner Shareece Wright, hadn't played a regular season game in almost two years and a schedule with the pass-happy likes of Hawaii and Arizona on it.
A true freshman straight out of high school started all 13 games at cornerback. Both sophomore safeties had little game-action to rely upon.
Now, all those youngsters are seasoned veterans, and just as importantly, the coaches know how to use them know.
T.J. McDonald is a force in the box, playing the run with reckless abandon. Nickell Robey makes up for his lack of height with sound technique and impressive athleticism.
The Trojans can put Robey one-on-one with the opponent's top receiver, allowing McDonald to attack, roll coverage to the other side of the field or blitz linebackers. Just those little bits of knowledge will result in a more effective defense.
2. The busy Mr. Burnett could be USC's secret weapon.
Between football, track and class, Tony Burnett hardly had any time for himself this spring, but that dedication paid off with a starting spot at corner and personal bests and event wins as a jumper.
Burnett always showed tremendous athleticism since joining the football program last season, but the big leap came at the end of 2010 when he was thrust into action because of injuries.
With crucial reps against Notre Dame and UCLA, Burnett found the confidence that he can play against the best with 16 tackles in those two games.
Coach Lane Kiffin now sees him as an NFL player. Not bad for a former walk-on safety.
3. Wanted: center fielder.
No, Frank McCourt's woes haven't moved from Chavez Ravine to Exposition Park, but the Trojans still have a need at strong safety. It's the one unknown in the secondary.
Flashback a year ago and that seemed to be one of the few spots settled, with Jawanza Starling coming off a strong performance in the spring.
Instead the junior from famed defensive back factory Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln struggled through his first season as a starter. This spring, he seemed to give way to the likes of Marshall Jones and Demetrius Wright, a move that might have happened late last year if not for a hamstring injury.
Starling was supposed to be a lynchpin, capable of cleaning up plays on the back end. Instead, he was too often burned. Just look at the clips of Washington quarterback Jake Locker or Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl that ran during the buildup to the NFL draft and you'll see Starling, supposedly the deep safety, five yards behind a long touchdown pass.
Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 scheme demands disciplined play from the safeties, but it was lacking. T.J. McDonald is far better suited to attack the line of scrimmage, but so are Starling and Wright.
That left Jones the last man standing in the spring.
Part of the touted Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian class with quarterback Jimmy Clausen and running back Marc Tyler, Jones looked like he would never make an impact after injuring his neck. But he performed well, with a team-high 10 tackles against UCLA, and looks to be the reliable option.
USC's best pure deep safety is probably Drew McAllister, at one point the expected successor to Taylor Mays after posting three interceptions as a true freshman. If he is fully recovered from hip surgery, McAllister will have his say.