Fall position group preview: Defensive backs

More numbers, more experience, more speed from USC's young secondary group. What will it mean?

Here's where taking your lumps can pay off. Where after allowing 274.5 yards a game passing last fall, the most since 2005, the five returnees with starting experience agree with Steve Sarkisian about the "growing pains" of 2014.

As tough as it was to go without the suspended Josh Shaw for 10 games on his way to the NFL, it did provide lots of game experience for returning sophomore superstar Adoree Jackson (5-11, 185) and senior leader Kevon Seymour (6-0, 185) along with sophomore safety John Plattenburg (5-11, 185) and the transitioning Leon McQuay III (5-11, 190) going from safety to corner, possibly, and Chris Hawkins (5-11, 190) going the other way from corner to safety). All five bring returning starting experience from 2014 to 2015.

Start with Adoree. USC is touting him as a Heisman Trophy candidate pointing out how his 2014 stats compare favorably with the last winner from defense -- Charles Woodson in 1997. There were the 49 tackles, four for losses, 10 deflections, one forced fumble, one recovered, on top of his 10 receptions for 138 yds, a 13.8 average and three TDs with 23 kickoff returns for 684 yards, a 29.7 average, for two TDs and two punt returns for 12 yards.

He's a candidate for both the Thorpe and Hornung awards after a freshman All-American season that saw him named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year last season while becoming the first Trojan to start a game on both offense and defense (against Notre Dame) since at least the late 1960s.

But it didn't end there. Adoree finished the year by winning the Pac-12 long jump title and anchoring the four-by-100 relay team.

Only Gerald Bowman (72 tackles, two interceptions) is the seasonlong loss from last fall. This is both a young -- yet veteran -- bunch along the back line.

But there's another key component for the 2015 secondary. There are four talented incoming freshmen who could get on the field just the way Adoree and Platt did last fall. Iman Marshall (6-1, 200) is the kind of big, strong, athletic and competitive corner USC hasn't seen in a long while.

Marvell Tell (6-2, 190) is a rangy safety who will push to play. And in an irony of sorts, the ability of two-way players Ykili Ross (6-2, 185), at corner and safety, and Isaiah Langley (6-0, 165), at corner, to get on the field on defense may determine how much Adoree gets to play offense.

And we haven't mentioned sophomore corner Jonathan Lockett (5-11, 180), who continues to acquit himself whenever he gets the chance. The same for fellow sophomore, safety Matt Lopes (5-11, 185). That's depth USC has seldom seen in the secondary.

Now they just all have to step up. Seymour (49 tackles, one for loss, a team-best 13 deflections, one interception), has to become the lead-by-example shutdown guy USC needs. Plattenburg (32 tackles, five deflections) just has to keep from trying too hard and make the plays that come his way.

McQuay (36 tackles, 0.5 for loss, four deflections, two interceptions, one fumble forced, one recovered) and Hawkins (32 tackles, one for loss, two deflections, one interception), in what may be a switch for them position-wise, have to keep improving and leading as veterans the way we've seen them do in the spring going into the summer.

Senior leader Ryan Dillard (5-9, 190) is recovering from foot surgery but his presence is always valuable. And he's not alone. Four more walkons -- Kevin Carrasco (6-0, 185), Davonte Nunnery (5-10, 205), Joe Harding (5-10, 180) and Jalen Jones (5-8, 155) make it possible to practice with their daily Scout Team contributions.

Add them up and that's a number -- 16 -- and a level of athleticism and personnel flexibility USC hasn't seen in quite a while in the secondary. And for those watching the way the summer went, there's a clear signal here that the Trojans want to be able to play press coverage and take things away from opponents' offenses.

Man-to-man was the way the secondary mostly played in the player-run throwing sessions. Some of that is the natural desire of athletes to challenge themselves, for sure. But what they do here is preparation for the way August will go as this team finds out if it can get in people's faces and deny them from the get-go.

SARK SAYS: “We had growing pains in the secondary last year as we played a lot of youngsters who got better as the season went on. This year, I believe the secondary will be a strength for us, especially when you have someone like Adoree’ out there who can impact a game quickly. There will be lots of competition to get on the field and that will make us better at every spot.”


Kevin Carrasco, So., CB

Ryan Dillard, Sr., CB

Joe Harding, RFr., S

Chris Hawkins, So., S

Adoree Jackson, So., CB-WR-RET

Jalen Jones, RFr., CB

Isaiah Langley, In. Fr., CB-WR

Jonathan Lockett, So., CB

Matt Lopes, So., S

Iman Marshall, In. Fr., CB

Leon McQuay III, Jr., S-CB

Davonte Nunnery, RFr., S

John Plattenburg, So., S

Ykili Ross, In. Fr., S-CB-WR

Kevon Seymour, Sr., CB

Marvell Tell III, In. Fr., S

Eighth in a series of fall position previews for the 2015 Trojans. Next: Special teams.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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