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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Checking up on the USC DBs

By Johnny Curren

With just about four months to go until USC opens the 2013 season, the Trojans are currently sitting smack-dab in the offseason doldrums. And while it’s a relatively quiet stretch of the year, it’s vital in terms of player development. And for the USC defensive back corps, the coming months figure to be even more important than usual. After all, the unit had a ton of question marks heading into the spring, and even after 15 practices, not all of them were answered. With that in mind, here are some of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason for USC's secondary.

The search continues at CB

Kevon Seymour
With the cornernack positions wide open, Kevon Seymour is trying to stake his claim to a starting spot.
With Nickell Robey declaring for the NFL draft back in January and Josh Shaw moving over to safety, the Trojans entered the spring looking for two new starters at cornerback. Anthony Brown spent the entirety of the spring running with the first unit on one side, with Kevon Seymour, Chris Hawkins, Torin Harris and Ryan Henderson all taking turns on the other. In the end, however, the unit didn’t perform up to par, causing USC head coach Lane Kiffin to voice his concern on more than one occasion.

With both starting positions still completely up for grabs, will anyone take their game to the next level this summer? Brown certainly got a ton of work in, but can he develop into the playmaker that the secondary desperately needs? What about Seymour? He missed significant time due to an ankle injury, but he also showed perhaps the best cover skills of anyone when healthy. Can Hawkins, a freshman, make a lightning-quick transition? Might Harris, the veteran senior with nine starts under his belt, become a more consistent performer? Or will it be one of the lesser-known talents such as Henderson or Devian Shelton who will emerge atop the competition?

Shaw, Lee or Agholor to the rescue at CB?

With Kiffin underwhelmed by the cornerbacks' level of play, he’s begun to consider bringing players over from other positions to enter the competition in the fall, including Shaw, and even wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor. It’s the potential move of Shaw that seems to make the most sense. Instinctive and physical, he started seven games at cornerback in 2012 and he would add at least some semblance of stability to the position. Lee or Agholor spending time at cornerback has to be considered as much more of a long shot, and would likely come about only as a last resort. But with their phenomenal athletic talents, there’s little doubt that either could step right in and get the job done.

Bailey and Bowman on the way at S

One reason that a potential move of Shaw to cornerback makes sense is that USC's safety corps figures to have a wealth of talent, thanks in large part to the addition of Dion Bailey and Gerald Bowman – both held out of the spring due to injury -- in the fall. Bailey, in particular, could make a huge impact at strong safety. Having spent the last two years as a starting linebacker in the previous 4-3 defensive alignment, he’s a sure tackler with ball-hawking skills who could thrive as a force in the secondary -- just as he did in high school -- in Clancy Pendergast’s new 5-2 defense. Bowman -- a senior -- played primarily on special teams and in a backup role in 2012 but arrived as a highly prized talent with a reputation as a big hitter out of Los Angeles Pierce College, so he can’t be overlooked as a candidate over at free safety either.

Sudden-impact safeties

The seven early-entrant freshmen who took part in spring drills wasted no time in making their presence felt -- perhaps none more so than the two safeties, Su'a Cravens and Leon McQuay III.

Just how quick was their transition? Following the conclusion of spring drills, both found themselves sitting atop the depth chart along with veterans Shaw and Demetrius Wright. Cravens made the most noise at strong safety, neither looking nor playing like a green newcomer. Even though he went down with a torn meniscus in his knee in early April, he’ll be back at work this summer, and has already shown that he’s more than capable of challenging for serious playing time. McQuay impressed too, although not quite on the scale that Cravens did. Running with the first unit at free safety when Wright went down with a hip injury, he showed off the unique skillset that made him such a prized commodity coming out of high school. With both players having made tremendous strides combining with the addition of Bailey and Bowman, the competition for the two starting safety spots is sure to be hotly contested to say the least.