The back seven was thought to be the strength of the USC defense heading into this season, with the defensive line thought to be one, big question mark.
So, far the defensive line has been tremendously better than expected. The linebackers have been solid and in the secondary the question is the second cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey.
Anthony Brown started the season there. Once Torin Harris returned from injury, he took over and has started the last three games. Freshman Kevon Seymour saw some time there in the last game against Utah and can expect to see an increase in playing time at that spot.
The second cornerback spot has been the lone question on the defense that surprisingly has been the strength of the team so far with far less pop than expected coming from the offensive side.
Safety Josh Shaw played there sparingly during fall camp. However, primarily, out of necessity because of injuries or guys resting.
Head coach Lane Kiffin has been reluctant to move Shaw to corner but it appears that door may have re-opened.
The spot opposite Robey has been attacked. When Stanford tight end Zach Ertz caught the eventual game-winning touchdown against the Trojans, it was away from Robey’s side. As was Utah’s touchdown catches by Kenneth Scott and DeVonte Christopher.
Shaw played cornerback at Florida and knows both safety spots in the USC defense. Reluctant but now looking for answers, Kiffin says the move of Shaw to corner is something that has been discussed amongst the staff.
“It’s not that hard of a move to put him back there and see what he can do out there,” Kiffin said. “He’s a very smart kid, very aware.”
And then there’s Marqise Lee. On the plane ride home from Utah, Lee begged Kiffin to allow him to play cornerback. The sophomore went as far as to say he could play all of the offensive snaps and defensive snaps and not miss a beat. Kiffin said he wasn’t convinced but allowed Lee’s “done everything else that he’s put his mind to, so you never know.”
Lee was highly sought after as a safety during his junior year at Serra High School before exploding onto the scene as a wide receiver after the departure of Robert Woods and Colorado’s Paul Richardson among others. Lee even took Woods’ No. 2 jersey as a senior and showed he could be a top flight wideout. That breakout season transferred into one of the most dynamic freshman years college football has seen.
Because of what he’s been able to accomplish on the offensive side, makes Kiffin more reluctant to use him on defense but it is a topic that has been discussed with Kiffin and his staff.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Kiffin said. “He’s so dynamic. Even when you don’t throw him the ball, he changes the defenses that you see.
“It’s pretty hard to put him over there very much if it was going to have to take reps away from offense.”