Nickell Robey said it best: It's awkward.
The players Robey mentors include Torin Harris, who is a grade above Robey, Tony Burnett, two years older than Robey and Anthony Brown, who came in the same class but redshirted last season while Robey started.
"When I am in the film room they look to me for questions and I do feel like that older guy," Robey said. "I feel like an older dude when I'm a younger person so it feels kind of awkward."
Robey has been on watch lists, his knowledge of coverages is well-recorded by writers and coaches and is well documented on game film.
"I just sing his praises all the time, he's everything you want in a cornerback, a young man and a student," said safeties assistant Sammy Knight, who is also overseeing the cornerbacks.
But if Robey were invited to a hypothetical defensive back dinner, he could only RSVP with a "+1" as his guest. Because there's no sure starter at that second cornerback spot opposite the Frostproof, Fla. native.
In week one it was Harris, the redshirt sophomore who is best known for that game-saving interception against Minnesota. In week two the Trojans started in their nickel coverage, where they had five defensive backs on the field including corners Robey, Harris and dual-athlete Burnett (who is a very skilled sprinter on USC's track team).
Ahead of week three, the aggressive style of Anthony Brown will be welcomed. Brown was told Tuesday he would play in the nickel defense against Syracuse's pass-heavy offense.
"I was very excited because in the meeting [Monday] they told me to be ready because Lane Kiffin told me I'm moving up the depth chart so that's a good thing," Brown said.
All three cornerbacks style of play, body type and personality varies. Harris (6-0, 180) is the smooth one, makes clean tackles and contains his receiver well in base defense. Burnett is the bigger-bodied (6-1, 200) corner that can wrap up the taller X receivers using his size and athleticism. And then Anthony Brown is the aggressor, a smaller (5-9, 190) but physical back that can act like a linebacker and stuff the run but can also use his speed to blitz the quarterback or cover a receiver.
Nobody on the Trojans is as well-rounded a cornerback as Nickell Robey but the remaining trio of options in Brown, Burnett and Harris is skilled enough to keep a solid rotation up and ensure fresh legs through four quarters.
"We don't want to just keep moving guys around, we want to get everybody comfortable with the rotation and position and we're trying to play as many guys as we can," Knight said. "That's why we're here at USC. You want to use your depth, you want to develop guys and everybody will continue to get better as you go."
With Robey setting the example, the other corners are sure to listen to this coach, even if he is their age.
"It's good to know we have a lot of players on the team that can play at the same level as the 'ones' and that's what we want and that's what we strive for and look forward to," Robey said. "They all work hard, they listen, they're coachable."
If football doesn't pan out for Robey, maybe coaching is in the sophomore's future. The job probably wouldn't be that different from what he does now--aside from the paycheck.