LOS ANGELES – USC cornerback Nickell Robey thinks the ball is going to be thrown to his side on every play.
In reality, teams don’t want to throw the ball anywhere near him. The problem USC is having with the second cornerback spot can be summed up rather easily.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s go at the other guy as more so as you go away from 21 (Nickell Robey),” said USC defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders. “If I’m looking at it, I see 21 out there, I don’t really care who’s on the other side, I’m not going at 21.”
Enter Josh Shaw.
The Florida transfer is now getting his shot to play opposite Robey, although he didn’t get any reps there on Wednesday with the undisclosed absence of safety Jawanza Starling.
Shaw hasn’t played cornerback since fall camp. After being reluctant to move him from safety, USC head coach Lane Kiffin began throwing the idea around following the team’s win at Utah last Thursday.
“I’m getting back into the swing of things,” Shaw said of getting reps at cornerback. “I think I’m moving along pretty well.”
Shaw, who has one interception this season, says he’s “definitely ready” to come in and play cornerback in a game if he were called on to do so.
Playing cornerback, Shaw says, is less complicated than his safety position in terms of his responsibilities on the field as far as the playbook is concerned. His film study however is different. Shaw has focused more on situations and what opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks like to do in those situations.
He says he’ll continue to study film and lean on Robey to help make the transition easier heading into Saturday’s game at Washington. He’s glad about the chance to help the team.
“Whenever you’re on the sideline and you feel like you’re capable, you always want to get out there on the field somehow, so anyway to help contribute to this team, I’m all for it,” Shaw said.
Although he says he’s ready, Shaw won’t just be thrown into the lineup nor is it a given that he’ll get action there on Saturday. The move is more about depth than it is performance, according to Sanders.
“It’s improving with what we have there,” Sanders said. “I really have confidence in Torin (Harris). I think he’s going to continue to get better as the season goes along.”
That isn’t necessarily the same tune Kiffin was singing, who appears to be more in search of answers. Shaw could provide that, but they’ll have to see in a live game if he can. In the meantime, he must continue to know both safety spots and cornerback, something the staff knows he’s capable of.
The ever present elephant in the room is Marqise Lee, who’s been the topic all week, after Kiffin said the sophomore receiver pleaded he be allowed to play both sides of the ball – cornerback as well as wide receiver.
“If Coach (Kiffin) wants to offer him, I will take him,” Sanders said. “I’ll tell you that, but I doubt if that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
The second cornerback spot has become the weak link of a defense that has played well in four of five games this season. Robey is paying attention to the revolving door on the opposite side of the field.
“I’m mindful of what’s going on over there,” Robey said. “We just got to make sure guys are being accountable and make sure guys are doing they’re job.
“Guys just got to learn how to just believe in what they are coached and just go get it.” Meanwhile, Robey will keep believing balls will come his way. Chances are, they’re probably not.