Maybe I should have said Pinkard, Mays and Harris or Harris, Pinkard and Mays. Whatever you call USC's top three safeties they are a very talented group. USC also has Drew MAllister and Shane Horton as well as incoming freshmen like T.J. McDonald, Patrick Hall and Jawanza Starling. USC's walk-on strong safety from Diamond Bar's Damien HS, Ryan McMahon, can also knock the fillings out of your molars.
People who are expecting a drop off in USC's defense are going to be surprised. The Trojans' defensive line is going to be a juggernaut. The defensive line is going to cause more fumbles, more interceptions and the sack count will be higher in 2009.
And don't expect a dip in play at linebacker. The Trojan linebackers will be able to do some things better than a year ago. WLB Malcolm Smith is way faster than Kaluka Maiava and SLB Michael Morgan is even faster than Smith. In a race between Morgan and Cushing it wouldn't even be close.
WLB Malcolm Smith was the star of the spring. SLB Michael Morgan is fast, hard to block and a terrific tackler. In the middle, calling plays will be MLB Chris Galippo. From tackle to tackle Galippo will be in the right place.
The best unit on defense I've saved for last and that is the secondary, and the defensive backfield's brightest stars play safety. USC has a group of safeties that are faster than corners and hit like linebackers. I can't imagine a team with better athletes than USC has at safety.
Next year Mays, Pinkard and Harris will graduate and when they get to the NFL Combine NFL scouts will be absolutely amazed by the athleticism they see there.
The whole country already knows about Taylor Mays. Taylor's speed and athleticism is legendary at USC, but what the NFL is going to find out is that Will Harri and Josh Pinkard aren't far behind Mays athletically. Mays and Pinkard were recently timed in the 20-yard day and ran 2.50 and 2.52. Both are world class times.
The NFL could find out over time that SS Josh Pinkard is the best player of the three. Pinkard is the best cover safety of the group and is a sure tackler and playmaker.
I call SS Will Harris the "Sandman," because when Harris hits players, they are likely to fall asleep for awhile. Both Mays and Harris blast right through players and will be featured on a lot of highlight films this year blowing up ball carriers. But Josh Pinkard is the best tackler of the three, because he wraps up so well.
How do you get all three of them on the field at the same time? You could move Pinkard back to CB, but it would be like breaking a trust, because Josh came back for his 6th year to play safety and get ready for the NFL. You could move Taylor Mays to WLB, but USC has Malcolm Smith at WLB, and he was the star of spring practice.
Taylor Mays came back for his last year to work on his cover skills and to do some work close to the line of scrimmage at strong safety. So USC will rotate all players and could have them all on the field in nickel situations.
USC has had a wealth of great safeties in the past. Mike Battle was a great safety from '66-68 out of South Gate and LBCC. Battle teamed up with Earl McCullouch in LBCC defensive backfield. Battle played pro ball for the Jets. Charles Phillips and Artimus Parker were also a great pair of safeties in ‘73. Charles Phillips was part of the '72 and '74 championship teams. Phillips blew up ND in that great second half rally in '74.
Dennis Thurman who played safety and flanker for USC from '74 to 77 is credited by Ronnie Lott as being his mentor. Thurman played 8 years for the Dallas Cowboys. Thurman has coached for the Cardinals, Raven and Jets.
Dennis Smith played safety '77-80. He was out of Santa Monica High School, as was Dennis Thurman and later Dennis' younger brother, Junior, played with Dean Cain (superman) and Charlie Sheen at Santa Monica in '82, when the Vikings defeated LB Poly 21-8 for the CIF championship. Junior Thurman played for the Saints.
In '80 USC had three future all pros in their secondary: Dennis Smith, Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner and the fourth back was Jeff Fisher, the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Joey Browner was a hard hitter and ferocious player. Browner was USC's MVP in '82 and is in the NFL Hall of Fame as a Minnesota Viking safety. Browner is right with Ronnie Lott as an all-time best.
When Marcus Allen was a freshman, Coach John Robinson was considering playing Allen at safety and moving Ronnie Lott to tailback. But Lott was the better tackler. I think coach Robinson made the right decision putting Marcus on offense. Allen blocked at fullback for Charles White for a year and then won the Heisman at running back two years later.
How about Tim McDonald? McDonald was on the Walter Camp all-century team after playing for USC in the mid 80's. He was really smart and a business major. He played 13 years in the NFL with the Cardinals and 49ers. He's a high school coach now in Fresno.
Did I mention Cleveland Colter an All-American safety in '88 or Mark Carrier out of Lake Charles La. who played with USC in '87-89? Colter was an All-American in '88 at safety, Carrier was an All-American in ‘89 and is the DB coach for the Baltimore Ravens. Carrier was the 6th pick in the '90 draft.
How about future NFL Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu? Troy was a two-time All-American in '01-2 and a four- time All Pro. Dennis Smith, Ronnie Lott, Tim McDonald, Mark Carrier and Joey Browner were all high 1st round draft choices.
Last year USC had a defense that stopped big plays. This year the USC defense, led by a brilliant group of safeties is going to make big plays. It's going to be exciting.
Josh Pinkard is one of the most versatile defensive backs in college football.