Role Review: Safeties

Analyzing the past, present and future of USC's safeties.

We had to wait to write this.

Because the Trojans' recent addition of junior college transfer Gerald Bowman was too-good a prospect to avoid mention.

So when USC signed him into their early enrollee class of four last week, USC's secondary already looked brighter.

But the return of little known safety T.J. McDonald might have been the most critical factor.

Prior to McDonald and Bowman's decisions, the USC secondary pre-2012 was reminiscent of the Trojans' offensive line pre-2011. Fans thought the Trojans were without a solid safety recruit minus Bowman and without their veteran and defensive captain in McDonald. But as Lane Kiffin & Co. are so good at, the talent has made its way to USC and now, the program's class of defensive backs looks loaded.

Let's first examine the safeties. Bowman has experience at a higher level than high school and by bringing him in early so he can learn the playbook, it wouldn't be shocking if he competed for a starting spot in 2012.

McDonald will be on nearly every defensive preseason list, and looks like a sure contender for the Lott Impact Trophy. This past season was a solid one for the returning starter from Fresno, Calif., who led the team in interceptions with three and had 67 tackles in 12 games. He also blocked a critical punt against Oregon.

But McDonald suffered a number of penalties, including serving a half-game suspension against Colorado after a personal foul in the Stanford game. It wasn't his best year, and returning as a senior at USC, he will have a chance to get his degree and raise his draft stock with a solid season, hopefully one with less controversy.

Competing with Bowman for that second safety spot opposite McDonald will be redshirt senior Drew McAllister, redshirt sophomore Patrick Hall who has missed two years due to knee injuries, will-be junior in Demetrius Wright and senior Jawanza Starling. Starling, who started most of USC's 2011 season opposite McDonald, didn't rise to the occasion until midway through the season.

But the coaches have a championship on their minds, especially with the return of quarterback Matt Barkley. In 2011, the staff might have been more willing to start younger players under the sanctioned season but Sammy Knight, Monte Kiffin and whomever USC's new defensive backs coach is will most likely play Starling and McDonald because of their confidence and experience.

Check back for our Role Review on Tuesday, where we'll examine USC's cornerbacks.


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