The USC Trojans enter the 2014 football season with a great deal of buzz surrounding the secondary. The position group has been one of great speculation in the offseason with position shifts, heralded recruits and returning talent all combining to generate intense interest.
As a whole, the secondary had an up-and-down season in 2013 providing suffocating coverage in some games while acting as a glaring weakness in others, namely losses to Arizona State and UCLA. As the group enters a new season with a new defensive coordinator and a new position coach, they will strive for an outstanding performance.
The group will do this while trying to compensate for the loss of Dion Bailey to the NFL. Bailey, a dependable safety for the Trojans in 2013, was also a team leader and considered the anchor of the secondary. This year, converted cornerback Josh Shaw appears primed to take over the role.
Shaw, a 2012 transfer from Florida, was originally recruited as a safety. But positional depth thrust Shaw into the role of cornerback where he has flourished for the Trojans. Transitioning smoothly, Shaw was USC’s de-facto shutdown defensive back. He turned in excellent performances against some of the Pac-12’s top receivers last year.
His performance raised the eyebrows of commentators and scouts alike, as Shaw was rated as one of the top senior cornerbacks by noted draft guru Mel Kiper in the offseason. Additionally, Shaw has embraced the role of mentor this offseason. As a veteran, he has offered leadership and experience to younger defensive backs like freshman Adoree’ Jackson.
“Adoree’ is a hard worker,” Shaw said. “His room is actually right next to mine in the dorm. Adoree’ is really just a guy that wants it.”
Jackson is one of many highly touted recruits who could see some time in the secondary. Jackson is one of a few freshman athletes, like JuJu Smith and Rahshead Johnson, who could see time on both sides of the ball. While they test the waters on offense, freshman Lamont Simmons and Jonathan Lockett appear to be locked in at cornerback.
Simmons, a recruit from Florida, has been a revelation at camp. His length and speed have impressed players and coaches alike.
“You’re just excited to unwrap what you get when you come into fall camp, and I would say they’ve definitely been pleased with Lamont, and we as a team have been pleased with Lamont’s play so far,” Shaw said.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has also been impressed by Simmons thus far.
“He has gone up first day and played press man against some of our best receivers,” Wilcox said. “He’s not been perfect by any means, but he’s been competitive.”
The safety position is a bit more settled as returning Freshman All-American Su’a Cravens appears to be building on a stellar breakout campaign. He will joined by Leon McQuay III who came on strong late in the season, demonstrating a great ball-hawking ability.
New defensive backs coach Keith Heyward has a lot of talent to work with in the secondary. If he is able to mold the individuals into a cohesive unit, the Trojans could be giving opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers nightmares all season.