Role Review: Cornerbacks

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

On one side you have a sturdy, two-time starter, likely co-captain and soon-to-be upperclassman in Nickell Robey.

On the other side you have a gigantic question mark.

While it's too early to be concerned about the future of USC's cornerbacks, that second spot could likely go to one of four players.

First, there is Isiah Wiley, a junior college transfer from Arizona West, became a starter a few games into the 2011 season after players were sidelined with injuries. And he proved himself valuable. Wiley appears to be the frontrunner for the starting spot opposite Robey, who recorded 39 tackles in 10 games (6 starts), including two tackles for a loss, a sack, four pass breakups and one recovered fumble.

One rung below Wiley on this defensive back totempole is probably Torin Harris, who started the first four games for the Trojans, including a key interception in the fourth quarter of the season opener against Minnesota. Before Harris came down with an unusual shoulder injury that head coach Lane Kiffin said was a "nerve issue," he looked pretty comfortable at that spot, although I'm not sure Kiffin was convinced he was the man for the job.

Below Harris –at least right now—is Anthony Brown, another cornerback who was out for the season after he broke his left ankle.

Brown started in the Arizona State and Cal game, before Wiley came to take his place. I talked to Brown last week and he said he is already on pace to making a full recovery. Brown is a different style cornerback than the more celebral Wiley or smoother Harris. Brown is like a smaller linebacker that will pound you into the ground and has enough speed to outrun anybody, but he still needs to develop a more complete game. Right now, it's likely he'll be used in nickel packages as a fifth defensive back, but that could change depending on his mental and physical progress.

And then there is Tony Burnett. I hate to bag on Burnett, but he was just the least used cornerback last season of the ones mentioned. The two-sport star (also plays on USC's track team) just doesn't seem to "get it" yet. He got in at some point of all 12 Trojan contests, but did not do anything overwhelming.

Finally, you have freshman Ryan Henderson, who redshirted last season. While Henderson flashed his abilities in fall camp and even on scout team, I don't see him getting the nod ahead of the more-established players unless he escalates his learning curve to make up for field experience.

Here's a table to see the cornerbacks who started each game for the 2011 season:

Game Starter
Minnesota Torin Harris
Utah Torin Harris
Syracuse Torin Harris
Arizona State Torin Harris
Arizona Anthony Brown
California Anthony Brown
Notre Dame Isiah Wiley
Stanford Isiah Wiley
Colorado Isiah Wiley
Washington Isiah Wiley
Oregon Isiah Wiley
UCLA Isiah Wiley

USCFootball.com Top Stories