USC Trojans: Jawanza Starling

The USC Trojans had four players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, increasing their record total of drafted players to 480.

It was a mixed bag for the Trojans in this draft, as they did not have a player selected in the first round -- USC also holds the record for most first-round NFL draft choices -- and there was also the public free-fall for quarterback Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesWith the success Robert Woods had against Syracuse, it's no surprise Bills coach Doug Marrone made him the first Trojan off the board in the 2013 draft.
There had been hope that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods would go in the opening round, but the first day passed with both players undrafted.

Woods didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, though, as the all-time leading USC receptions leader was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 41 overall pick.

The Bills had selected a quarterback -- E.J. Manuel from Florida State -- in the first round, and they were also in the market for a No. 2 receiver to pair with Stevie Johnson. The fact that Woods was the next selection for the club after Manuel says a lot about how they feel about him as a potential long-term piece of the puzzle.

The new coach of the Bills, Doug Marrone, also faced Woods twice as the head coach of Syracuse and in those two games he saw Woods catch 18 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with a 76-yard run in 2012.

After Woods was picked, it was assumed by most USC fans that Barkley would be next off the board but, somewhat surprisingly, the next Trojan picked was safety T.J. McDonald, who went to the St. Louis Rams in the third round with the No. 71 selection.

There hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, a one-time All-American who saw his stock fall as a senior. You have to wonder how much two items affected that drop-off: the personal foul penalties as a junior that led to questions about his style of play and the overall defensive schemes implemented in 2012 by Monte Kiffin, which led to his resignation.

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Robert Woods, Matt Barkley AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRobert Woods and Matt Barkley put their best foot forward in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams during USC's pro day Wednesday.
The Trojans held their annual NFL Pro Day on Wednesday with plenty of buzz surrounding the workout of quarterback Matt Barkley.

Not only is Barkley a high-profile prospect at the most high-profile position, but pro day marked the first time Barkley had an opportunity to throw for scouts since injuring his shoulder in late November. Since the end of the season Barkley has been spending his time in the South getting treatment on the shoulder and working with former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Before he could get to his throwing work, Barkley ran the 40-yard dash (a hand-timed mark of 4.87) and the shuttle drill, although he slipped in one shuttle rep and came up flexing his right hand. By the time his throwing session started, the hand was fine and all eyes were focused on him.

Barkley threw to a group of five primary players; wide receivers Robert Woods, Brandon Carswell and Travon Patterson, tight end Dominique Byrd and running back Curtis McNeal. It took about three or four throws to realize the shoulder strength was not an issue. There was zip on his passes and he was moving well on a variety of throws. There will always be nitpicking as part of the scouting process for little things that might not have gone as well, but for the most part it was a successful session, with Barkley hitting on 46 of 50 throws.

“It was a great day just to come out and throw the ball around,” Barkley said. “It’s good to be back on SC’s campus for something like this. The shoulder felt fine. The ball slipped on a couple but no worries about that. I’m not worried about anything.”

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The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

After not being able to take part in the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine due to an injured shoulder, this will be the opportunity for Barkley to prove to coaches and scouts that he is healthy and deserving of a first-round selection.

Because Barkley hasn't thrown since getting injured against UCLA, there are many questions about his draft status. Will he be a first-day pick or will he fall into the second round? So much will depend upon the health of the shoulder and how he performs in the roughly 60 throws he will make to Robert Woods. There are no questions about his leadership and character but, in the end, an NFL quarterback needs to be able to make the throws, and that is what Barkley will need to show.

Woods will be looking to prove something himself, as well. This is a deep receiver draft and most mock drafts have him going in the second round, but a recent mock draft from Charley Casserly at had Woods as a first-round pick. The main goal for Woods in this workout is to get a 40 time below 4.5. He ran 4.51 at the combine and getting into the 4.4 range would mean a lot in the constant jockeying for draft position.

This will also be the first opportunity to conduct a workout for center Khaled Holmes, who withdrew from the Senior Bowl and then got hurt during the weightlifting portion of the combine.

Others working out will include a trio of defensive backs in T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling along with defensive end Wes Horton and running back Curtis McNeal.

The USC Pro Day will be shown live on ESPN3 at 11:15 a.m. PT.
With the loss of starting safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling, there was more than a fair amount of anticipation heading into spring practice when the search for their replacements officially began.

[+] EnlargeDemetrius Wright
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIVeteran Demetrius Wright is solidifying a safety position that has also seen an infusion of freshman talent.
And while it’s a unit currently low in terms of numbers with both Gerald Bowman and Dion Bailey -- who will potentially move to the secondary from linebacker in 2013 -- out for the spring due to injury, USC’s safety group has performed solidly throughout the team’s five practices, thanks in large part to a pair of veterans running primarily with the first group -- redshirt junior Josh Shaw and senior Demetrius Wright.

With Shaw at strong safety, and Wright at free safety, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has two experienced contributors with tons of athleticism manning the center of the defensive backfield in his new scheme.

“I feel like we’re coming along good,” Wright said. “Me and Josh have known each other since our junior year in high school, so we already had that connection. We’re working together, we watch film together, and the communication between me and him is going really good right now.”

But it hasn’t just been Shaw and Wright who have stood out. In fact, over the course of the last week, it’s been freshman early-entrant Su’a Cravens who has emerged as a budding star. Lining up with the second unit at strong safety, as well as at nickelback in the team’s nickel package, he was particularly stellar on Tuesday, collecting two interceptions. And on the other side, it’s been another freshman, Leon McQuay III, who has drawn notice after spending the first week at cornerback.

Once a major question mark, the safety positions now appear to have been at least somewhat solidified, particularly when you consider the team will be getting reinforcements in the fall -- a time that figures to see the competition heat up even more.

“All of the safeties aren’t even here right now,” Wright said. “We’ve still got a couple of guys hurt, so it’s going to be a real competition come fall training camp. We’re going to have a lot of depth. Anybody can go with the ones or twos, so we don’t really look at who’s starting. We’re out here competing so everyone is good to play.”
LOS ANGELES -- As the Trojans headed toward the exit on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field after USC’s first spring practice of the year, no player had a more pronounced smile on his face than Josh Shaw.

After lining up as the team’s starting cornerback for the final seven games of 2012, the Palmdale (Calif.) product was back at strong safety on Tuesday -- the position where he began his Trojans career after transferring in from Florida a little more than a year ago.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAfter spending time at cornerback last year, Josh Shaw hopes to lift the USC defense from his natural safety position.
And the 6-foot-1 redshirt junior didn’t just go through the motions, either. Running with the first defense, Shaw was one of the stars of the day. During the team’s 11-on-11 team session, he showcased his playmaking skills while also providing a heady veteran presence.

“It feels good,” Shaw said after practice. “I’ve really embraced this opportunity, being back at safety. I’ve embraced being able to put guys in certain situations and just taking the next step in the development of my game.”

With strong tackling skills and a ball-hawking mentality, Shaw has always regarded himself as a safety first, despite performing solidly at cornerback last season. So with the team holding an open tryout of sorts with the graduation of last year's starting safeties in T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling, Shaw jumped at the opportunity to make the switch.

“The competition is wide open,” Shaw said. “Everyone has a clean slate, and right now, I’m just out here trying to grind. We’re trying to take advantage of every opportunity that we can as a secondary. Especially me, I’m trying to do everything that I can because I want to lead this group -- I am going to lead this group. I’m going to come out here everyday and put forth my best effort and make sure that my teammates see me doing it as well. “

Battling with new arrival Su’a Cravens, among others, Shaw has an edge when it comes to experience. And having now played extensively at cornerback, he’s a wealth of knowledge about the entire secondary.

“It helped me a lot, just knowing wide receiver splits,” Shaw said of playing at cornerback. “Right now, I can look out there and see if the Z receiver is out there, and if his outside foot is back, I can tell the corner, 'Alert the slant right now -- three-step slant.' So, it definitely helped me a lot, and I’m trying to pass it all on to these corners -- just trying to help them any way that I can.”

Shaw’s emergence as a leader is something he’s grown into, and it figures to be crucial as a young and inexperienced Trojans’ secondary adjusts to the team’s new defense, masterminded by Clancy Pendergast.

“I love him,” Shaw said of Pendergast, who will also coach the defensive backs. “I couldn’t ask for a better defensive coordinator. His style is very, very aggressive. He likes things to be done right, and he likes it to be done right the first time that you do it. His scheme is really diverse and I think it fits great for this defense. You’re going to see a lot of guys flying around and making plays.”

And on Tuesday, that certainly appeared to be the case. Playing with a renewed burst, the USC secondary looked like a quicker, more enthusiastic unit, and one that has Shaw thinking optimistically when it comes to the future of the group.

“There’s a lot of new guys, but I think for the first day, the communication was great today,” Shaw said. “A lot of guys were flying around, guys were making plays and we were very smart with our adjustments. Now we’ve just got to go watch film and build on it.”

With Shaw leading the way, there’s every reason to believe that’s exactly what will happen.

Exit interview: Jawanza Starling

January, 30, 2013
Jawanza StarlingJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJawanza Starling's scoop-and-score against Notre Dame stands as his favorite Trojans memory.
Making the trek across the country from Sunshine State powerhouse Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln in 2009, Jawanza Starling would develop into a sturdy presence for the Trojans at strong safety. A three-year starter, he amassed 128 tackles in his time on campus, but he's most likely to be remembered for coming up big in the clutch -- most notably in 2011, when he picked up a fumble and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown in USC's 31-17 victory over Notre Dame.

Now gearing up for the "Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game" (Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas), the recent graduate took time out to give a quick update on what he's been up to over the last few weeks, while also taking a look back on his Trojans career.

WeAreSC: First off, I understand you recently graduated. When did you wrap things up, and what did you receive your degree in?

Starling: I graduated in December with a degree in PPD -- Public Policy and Management with a Health Administration focus. I'm pretty excited, especially being able to finish in three-and-a-half years. It's something that nobody can ever take away from me.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the conclusion of the football season?

Starling: I've just been training for the combine, the all-star games and pro day. It's been pretty intense ... two-a-days basically -- two workouts a day. And then just recuperating my body in the off-time. I'm just trying to get my form, my speed and my strength up. I'll be playing in the "Texas vs. The Nation Game" on the 2nd.

WeAreSC: Are you training locally in Southern California?

Starling: I'm training in Westlake [Westlake Village, Calif.] at The Factory, Elite Performance.

[+] EnlargeJawanza Starling
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesGraduating senior Jawanza Starling's USC career was highlighted by opportunistic playmaking.
WeAreSC: Looking back on your time at USC, do you have a top on-field memory that sticks out in your mind?

Starling: I would probably say my fumble recovery against Notre Dame last year.

WeAreSC: You also came up with a crucial play against Washington this past October when you forced and recovered a fumble when the Huskies were making a comeback bid. Have you always been a clutch performer, and is that something that you take pride in?

Starling: I always try to be a guy who makes the most out of my opportunities. When it's my chance to make a play, I try to do my best to make a play and be in the right position, doing my assignment right to be able to make the play. So, that's one of the things that I do always try to focus on.

WeAreSC: If you had to name one or two coaches at USC who had an especially profound impact on you, who would they be?

Starling: I would have to say Monte Kiffin and Marvin Sanders. I would say Monte just because of his knowledge and his teaching of the schemes, and just the experience of getting to play with a coach with such a strong resume. And then Coach Marvin Sanders because of his technique, his fundamentals and his consistency with his coaching -- it just really helped me out this past year.

WeAreSC: What are you going to miss most about being a student at USC?

Starling: I guess what I'm going to miss most is just the chance to be able to sit next to people in class that are going to be successful in the future. And to get to rub elbows with past alumni, and then the students that you were in class with, and just knowing that down the road that those can be business partners or somebody that you might have to rely on to help you out in any situation.

WeAreSC: What was your favorite class that you took at USC?

Starling: I would have to say my health management class this past semester -- PPD 413. First of all, I like the professor -- Professor Richard Hagy -- he actually works at the USC hospital. It was a good experience just to be able to learn from somebody in the field that I see myself going into in the future. It was a once-a-week class, but we just learned a lot of applicable things to use in the future.

WeAreSC: Favorite on- or off-campus eating spot?

Starling: I would have to say Chipotle, or maybe Roscoe's off campus.

WeAreSC: As a guy who came out from Florida in 2009, talk about what life has been like for you on the West Coast these last four years.

Starling: I adjusted to it very well. People are different wherever you go. The atmosphere of the people here is more laid back than back home where I'm from. And I'm a laid-back person in general, so I kind of adjusted easily. But the weather is pretty much the same. You have good weather most of the year -- it doesn't rain as much out here as it does back home. But other than that, the transition wasn't difficult for me.

WeAreSC: Talk about what this whole experience of playing for USC has meant to you.

Starling: First of all, it's the tradition of all of the guys that came before me. The Ronnie Lotts, the Marcus Allens, the Junior Seaus, the Carson Palmers, the Reggie Bushes ... the great players that form the lineage of SC Trojans. And pretty much, you always had to walk around with a target on your back, because everybody that wasn't a Trojan, wanted either to be you or beat you. So, there was an us vs. the world attitude that I always shared with my teammates, and I think that was the main impressive thing to me about being a Trojan.

WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?

Starling: Over these last couple of years, we've had our ups and downs, but it's always good to know that we have die-hard SC fans, and that the Trojan family stays strong through the good and bad.

USC Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
With signing day fast approaching, it’s worth taking a glance back at the Trojans’ recruiting class of 2009 -- a group of players now almost four years removed from high school. The No. 4 ranked class that year, it’s a collection that was ultimately filled with a number of hits, as well as misses.

Signing day primer: USC 

January, 23, 2013
Team needs: With all-conference cornerback Nickell Robey declaring for the NFL draft and the graduation of safeties T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Drew McAllister, adding depth in the secondary is a pressing need for the Trojans. Given Matt Barkley’s departure, it was imperative that USC sign another quarterback to pair with Max Wittek and Cody Kessler.

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With the 2012 USC football season now in the books, it’s time to look ahead to what will be an absolutely crucial spring for the program. Here are five key position battles to watch this spring as USC coach Lane Kiffin looks to find the right combination of talent to get the Trojans back on the winning track.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMIAfter a year lost to injury, Devon Kennard hopes to reclaim his spot on the defensive line opposite Morgan Breslin.
Defensive End
The emergence of defensive end Morgan Breslin was the big story on defense for the Trojans in 2012, but with Wes Horton’s departure, the other side is wide open with a long list of suitors looking to make their presence felt. Devon Kennard -- who has 18 starts under his belt as a linebacker and end -- had a fantastic spring a year ago, but then he tore a chest muscle during offseason workouts and missed the entire season. Now healthy, this is the last chance for the senior to live up to all of the lofty expectations that followed him when he arrived at USC as a freshman in 2009. Challenging Kennard will be J.R. Tavai, an extremely athletic and versatile option who can play end or tackle, as well as Greg Townsend Jr., whose larger frame might pair up nicely with Breslin. Kevin Greene and Jabari Ruffin could also get looks here.

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Roundtable: Moments with most impact 

December, 27, 2012
For this week's roundtable, the WeAreSC staff got together to compile a list of the 10 moments of the 2012 season that had the most impact.

1. Decision to shelve the black shoes
The USC uniform is one of the most traditional in college football, and that includes the black shoes that had long represented the blue-collar nature of the program. At some point in the offseason the decision was made to go with a flashier style of shoe for the 2012 season, a look that was more Oregon than USC. The change was roundly panned within the USC community, particularly by the former players who had worn the black shoes with so much pride through the years.

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Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
Marqise LeeMatt Kartozian/US PresswireMarqise Lee's 345-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arizona was universally lauded by the WeAreSC roundtable as one of the Trojans' best performances.
There were many ups and downs during the 2012 season. Give your responses on the following items (good or bad) that helped shape the season.

Biggest individual plays

Garry Paskwietz

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Kiffin recaps Arizona loss

October, 29, 2012
Matt BarkleyMatt Kartozian/US PresswireMatt Barkley and the Trojans put up some gaudy statistics, but it was the other numbers -- penalties, turnovers -- that did in USC against Arizona.
Some selected quotes from USC coach Lane Kiffin’s Sunday night conference call following the Trojans’ 39-36 loss to Arizona.

“Obviously, the story of the game I think starts with turnovers, and what that does in a game on the road momentum-wise, and changing of possessions and getting defenses back out on the field. With the double turnover with Jawanza’s [Starling] interception and fumbling it back, we had five turnovers on the day, and only get one [in return], so we’re minus-four on the turnover margin. It obviously makes a big difference. We had a chance at a number of takeaways.”

“A game of a lot of runs, starting off with their 10-0 run, followed by a 28-3 run by us and a 26-0 run by them … Obviously, very disappointing … as we watched the film, there were so many ways to win the game -- obviously with less penalties, less turnovers, just one play here or there.”

“Probably more than anything, the play that sticks out -- we’re up fifteen points, run a double-move by their corner -- who had jumped the post route earlier on Robert [Woods] -- and we weren’t able to connect on it … so unfortunately that didn’t happen. We missed it, and missed a lot of other opportunities in all three phases of the game and we came out of there with a loss.”

On whether or not USC was overrated to begin the season:
“I don’t know. We’ve had every opportunity to win every game. We’ve played eight of them. Six of them we’ve won by double digits, and screwed two of them up, so I think very easily we could be 8-0 if we had played better in these two games. I told the team, we do the hard things -- they practice really hard, they prepare really well -- the easy things are the decision-makings on the penalties, and those are the ones we’re not doing.”

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3 Up, 3 Down: Arizona 39, USC 36 

October, 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- A look at the positives and negatives from USC’s 39-36 loss to Arizona on Saturday:


1. Marqise Lee: On a day when there were holes in just about every other facet of the Trojans’ performance, Lee was phenomenal. Making 16 receptions for a Pac-12-record 345 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine a better receiver in college football right now. He made his mark on special teams, too, with a 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that set up the Trojans’ final score.

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USC defense playing well as a unit 

October, 14, 2012
The USC victory over Washington confirmed something that has been building over the first half of the season, the fact that the tone of this Trojans team is being set by the defense.

It’s been a pretty unexpected development considering the firepower of the USC offense, but right now the defense has been the more consistent side of the ball and on Saturday they provided a steady hand in a tough road environment.

The first big play came from linebacker Dion Bailey – which is no surprise considering Bailey has been the biggest constant on the USC defense all year long. What made Bailey’s interception stand out was not just the early turnover but the way he reached back and grabbed the ball behind him. It was a very acrobatic play and a reminder that Bailey was once a ball-hawking safety, one who had nine interceptions as a junior in high school.

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USC-UW postgame notes

October, 14, 2012

SEATTLE -- Here are notes and quotes from No. 11 USC's 24-14 win over Washington that won't make it into our other coverage from the game.

Defensive prowess

Nickell Robey was beaten badly on Kasen Williams' 17-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and he wasn't too happy about it.

As he ran off the field, he pooled coach Lane Kiffin and secondary coach Marvin Sanders together and told them he had a declaration to make.

"He's not gonna catch another pass the whole game," Robey told his coaches.

Sure enough, Williams didn't make another appearance on the stat sheet. He finished with 22 yards on two catches, the other five-yard catch coming just before the touchdown.

After the game, Kiffin said Robey led the way for what was another sneaky-good performance from USC's defense.

Two years ago, the Trojans were downright bad. Last year, they were good at times and bad at others.
Now, they're just good -- especially in the turnover department, forcing another four from the Huskies on Saturday.

And, perhaps most important, they weren't just good for three quarters, either. They held up all the way through the fourth, not allowing Washington any points in the final 20 minutes.

"For three years, that's been our issue: Fourth-quarter defense," Kiffin said. "I thought our guys really played well and closed the game out."

Defensive back Josh Shaw, who made his debut at cornerback Saturday and had an interception, said he heard his teammates discussing just how much improvement they've made over the past year. He didn't see any of it because he transferred from Florida in January, but he believes it.

"I wasn't here last year, but the talk is that this defense is much improved," Shaw said after the game. "We're looking pretty good."

Really, USC's defense has been more consistent than its offense, allowing no more than 22 points in a game when not counting garbage-time TDs from Syracuse and Utah.

Asked if he agreed with that assertion after Saturday's game, receiver Marqise Lee nodded his head.

"As of right now, you could say that," Lee said. "I'm not even gonna lie."

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