Spring Summary: Defensive Backs

A summary of the Trojans' spring season as it concerns the secondary.

Over the past week, we've summarized the two positions of concern for the USC Trojans heading into fall camp: tailback and defensive tackle. Those two spots need fixing, polishing, strategizing -- whatever it takes.

But that's only two positions that need urgent evaluation. At a spot where the Trojans were, well, spotty, they drastically improved. With the help of new defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders, USC's secondary got a makeover. There is depth and talent at both safety and cornerback, which was a position of concern in 2011.

On the end-of-spring depth chart three cornerbacks are listed as a possible starter opposite Nickell Robey.

At the top is returning co-starter Isiah Wiley who started half the Trojans' games in 2011. A transfer from Arizona West Junior College last season, Wiley is still the likely choice atop the defensive backs opposite Robey. He made some plays this spring, but Kiffin wanted to stress that there will be competition for that starting spot in the fall. Wiley beat it out last year because of injuries to fellow cornerbacks, but also cushioned the coaches' trust in him as his play improved as the season progressed. Still, the competition will be a good opportunity for Wiley to rise to the challenge.

Also listed at co-starter is a player that has become perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring season. Cornerback Brian Baucham struggled with consistency and academic issues in years prior, but this spring, Baucham stood out for his playmaking ability. Few expected the redshirt senior to be such an impact player, but on repeated occasions his picks were momentum changers, including one in last week's annual spring game. Head coach Lane Kiffin said the 5-11, 170-pounder plays much bigger than his size and Baucham said he uses that frame to motivate him and act as a chip on his shoulder when he plays. With his grades straightened out, Baucham could be a valuable addition and make some serious noise in the fall.

Finally, the third co-starter, Torin Harris, was still listed at the top of the depth chart despite missing all of spring with a nagging shoulder injury. Harris said the nerves in his right deltoid have regrown and he's confident he'll make a full return in the spring. Kiffin told reporters that he has Harris at the top because he won that starting cornerback spot in fall last year, so who is to say he wouldn't again if he was healthy this time around? But the valuable repetitions Harris missed this spring may end up the deciding factor by the end of fall camp. Harris will need to make up for lost time by catching up quickly, or he'll end up fighting for a second or even third spot behind Wiley and Baucham.

At safety, Demetrius Wright and Jawanza Starling are listed as co-starters opposite T.J. McDonald. Starling likely has the better shot of the two, although it seems that gap is not as wide as once believed.

Last season the junior duo of Starling and McDonald started the 2011 season but Wright proved this spring that he can be a dominant player, displaying good vision and solid tackling. Starling has his own strengths -- primarily starting experience -- but he, too, has improved this offseason.

And then there are the rest. Ball hawk Drew McAllister looks to be in his best form yet and will be entering his senior year, so he should see time on the field if not for being an interception machine but for his vast knowledge of the playbook and of the system.

Florida transfer Josh Shaw has finally been cleared by the NCAA to play in 2012 and looks like a legitimate defensive back with impressive size and game experience (especially in the defense-dominant SEC).

Finally, you have summer enrollee Gerald Bowman, the country's top junior college player last year. Bowman almost enrolled early but ended up finishing up classes at Pierce (Calif.) College. He attended some of the players' voluntary throwing sessions in January and picked McDonald's brain a bit, but nothing will test him like the Trojans' fall camp. Still, it's not impossible to imagine Bowman playing immediately, but likely in a backup role.

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