The Trojans step away from spring practices for a week due to spring break. While they're away, let's take a look at another vacant position with some serious implications for next season.
The safety tandem of the phenomenal Su'a Cravens and seasoned veteran Dion Bailey was quite successful for USC in 2013, with both athletes posing as formidable threats to opposing wide receivers. Bailey's decision to declare for the NFL early—after recording 54 tackles and five interceptions in 2013—threw a wrench in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's scheme. Now, he and new defensive backs coach Keith Heyward are tasked with finding a suitable replacement for him.
They need look no further than sophomore Leon McQuay III.
Like Cravens, McQuay was a vaunted member of the 2013 recruiting class, and this gifted free safety has been waiting in the wings to make his mark for the Trojans. We saw him in a backup capacity last season, and he recorded 19 tackles in eight games. When McQuay signed with USC, it was expected that he could come in and make an immediate contribution to a thin secondary. So far, he has showed glimpses of great things to come.
Outside of McQuay, Gerald Bowman will compete for a job, but it's more likely that he will serve as a backup. The redshirt senior was granted a medical redshirt after undergoing compartment surgery on his leg. He will be using the spring to show that he is a valuable asset as a reserve.
Going into spring camp, it was thought that Josh Shaw—the Florida transfer that has been a godsend to USC's secondary over two seasons—would patrol the back four with Cravens. During the first week of spring camp, however, he told the media that there is a different plan in place for him:
Josh Shaw isn’t practicing because of stress fracture in foot, but said he knows he will play cornerback this season— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) March 14, 2014
The coaches have yet to speak on it, but if Shaw is to exclusively play corner, that makes a lot of sense.
An imposing presence out on the boundary last season, Shaw had the task of locking down an opponent's top receiver. He finished 2013 with 67 tackles and four interceptions, tied for second most on the team.
Having Shaw, budding talent Kevon Seymour, Cravens and McQuay on the field all at the same time allows the Trojans to utilize their most talented back four as a unit, instead of having to split reps between Shaw and McQuay while also having to find another corner to step up and start in place of Shaw.
As spring ball progresses, we can expect McQuay to further separate himself from the pack and to have the starting job all but locked up heading into the fall.