Spring Cleaning: Defensive Backs

Where does Drew McAllister fit in? Who is the second corner? Could a freshman end up starting? Look inside for answers to these questions and much more from Dan Greenspan.

Depth chart
Cornerback                 Free Safety             Strong Safety                   Cornerback
Shareece Wright       T.J. McDonald         Jawanza Starling        Torin Harris OR
Daniel Harper           Ryan McMahon        Byron Moore                  T.J. Bryant

Three questions answered in the spring

1. Shareece Wright is ready for stardom.

The first domino to fall for the 2009 defense was Wright being declared academically ineligible, forcing a dramatic reshuffling of the secondary. But Pete Carroll's loss has become Monte Kiffin's gain.

Wright was the lynchpin of the defensive backs in the spring. Whatever receiver he was assigned to cover disappeared. Any quarterback foolish enough to throw at Wright was intercepted or had his pass broken up.

After missing two seasons because of injury and academics, Wright returned with a critical pick in the Emerald Bowl. Consider it the first salvo in what could be an All-American campaign.

2. Despite inexperience, this group should be more productive than last season's secondary.

USC got all of seven interceptions from its starters last year. Seven FBS players met or exceeded that total by themselves, including UCLA's Rahim Moore with a nation's best 10.

For a team that thrives on takeaways, that number has got to change and the new staff realizes it. The defensive line will amp up the pressure, making things easier on the back end. Coach Willie Mack Garza is allowing defensive backs to play so they can break on the pass.

It's all about the ball, again. As a result, don't be surprised if the starters have seven picks by the end of September.

3. Depth is a concern.

You can cut and paste that statement for several positions on the roster, but it especially showed in the defensive backfield. There's little experience; the most veteran player, Wright, has just two career starts. Walk-ons saw significant time with the second unit and could do the same by time the season opens at Hawaii, a team known for its aggressive passing attack. More than at any other position, including offensive line and linebacker, freshmen DBs must be ready to contribute early and often.

Three questions for the fall

1. Where does Drew McAllister fit in?

Sidelined by a hip injury for all of spring, the former high school quarterback has shown a knack for making plays as a key reserve the past two seasons. Cut from the mold of Matt Grootegoed and Lofa Tatupu, McAllister is an undersized defender who knows where the ball is going. However, given how effective Jawanza Starling was in the spring, McAllister is unlikely to start at strong safety but could work himself back into the mix at free safety.

2. Who is the second corner?

If ever a job was won by missing practice, Torin Harris might have done it. Simply put, T.J. Bryant was so awful for large chunks of spring, it made Harris' good play look outstanding in comparison.

Harris is built like former Trojan corner Terrell Thomas, long and lanky with good instincts and recovery speed. His biggest competition will likely come not from Bryant or Brian Baucham (recovering from a motorcycle accident), but a newcomer like Demetrius Wright.

3. Could a freshman end up starting?

Last season at Tennessee, Janzen Jackson started nine games and cemented his status as the heir apparent to Eric Berry.

That bodes well for the four defensive backs USC signed in February, especially Wright. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he has the physical attributes to contribute right away. It shouldn't be a surprise if Wright ends up as the backup to Shareece Wright, if not starting opposite him.

Torin Harris has an opportunity to become the No.2 cornerback this fall.

*Discuss more on the SCPlaybook.com message boards

If you haven't subscribed to SCPlaybook.com yet, give us a chance. Check out all the premium content and recruiting information you have been missing with a 7-Day Free Trial!

USCFootball.com Top Stories