USC DB Josh Shaw makes most of coaching shuffle

This season, USC redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw will play for the fifth defensive coordinator in as many years.

Kirby Lee

It’s Saturday afternoon in early April, and there’s festive vibe on the USC campus. In addition to spring football, a coaches clinic is taking place. 

Adjacent to Howard Jones Field, the 34th Annual Swim with Mike is going on at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center. 

Soon, the football team would run over and be a part of that. 

At this moment, however, USC defensive back Josh Shaw is in his own zone. 

His focus at this moment is single-minded.

Shaw didn’t participate in any of USC’s 15 spring practices dealing with a stress fracture. No longer in a walking boot, the redshirt senior is relegated to just mental reps. 

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As the team goes through one of their 11-on-11 periods, Shaw stands some 40 yards behind the defense. 

He watches everything.            

"I like to see it all play out," Shaw said. "Before the snap I’m saying ‘OK, (USC quarterback) Cody (Kessler) may go here or here based upon what he sees right now. Based on this receivers alignment, based on the formation, the ball’s going to come over here, the receiver’s going to run this or that route.’ It’s just, kind of, process of elimination and just helps you as a football player."

If the USC defensive back is anything, he’s astute. Last season, then-defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast raved about Shaw’s knowledge of the defense. 

Shaw knew the defense better than anybody. 

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To learn Justin Wilcox’s defense could be a little tougher without the reps on the field, but that’s where that whole astute thing comes into play. 

Wilcox is Shaw’s fifth defensive coordinator in as many years.

The former Palmdale star began his career at the University of Florida. In his two years there, one of which he redshirted, his defensive coordinators were Teryl Austin, recently hired to be the defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions, and Dan Quinn, who’s currently serving the same role with the Seattle Seahawks.

Since coming to USC, Shaw has been under the tutelage of Monte Kiffin, Pendergast, and now Wilcox. 

Despite having different concepts each year to digest, it hasn’t been a cycle of rinse and repeat. There’s always some carryover for Shaw.

"I just see things differently or whatnot and I pick things up rather quickly," he said. "Some things I learned in the past I just carry it over and it helps me now. For example, there’s some things I learned with Clancy last year that I’m definitely going to carry on because they work for me, and if they work within the scheme I’ll be able to carry on some of the technical things we’ve done."

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In addition to the five defensive coordinators he’s had in his college career, Shaw’s also had five position coaches — Austin served the dual role as DC and secondary coach followed by Travaris Robinson and after transferring to USC, it was Marvin Sanders followed by Pendergast, who was the DC and secondary coach last season as well. This year it’s Keith Heyward.

As he watches from 40 yards away, Shaw takes it all in. He watches the offense. He watches the defense. Rarely is he watching just the spot where he is supposed to be lined up. And never is he just absorbing the strengths of the unit.

"I’ve had great coaches over the course of my five years to really — and I didn’t really pick it up until my later years of college — to really pick it up and, kind of, understand what’s going on and to always answer the question myself as to why are they doing this or that?" he said. "Always answer the question ‘why?’ Or when I line up what’s the worst thing that can happen to me? As I’m watching right now, I’m just thinking, in this defense, what’s the worst thing that can happen to us? So, you just got to know your weaknesses."