USC Football: 5 Defensive Players with the Most to Gain from Summer Workouts
Last week, we looked at the offensive players who stand to gain the most from impressing during summer throwing sessions that are underway at USC. Now, we turn our attention to the defense.
USC's defensive line is as stout as they come, but the rest of the defensive units are still in a bit of flux. Be it because of injury or slow development, some of the Trojans' linebacker and defensive back positions are still up for grabs.
With solid efforts during summer workouts, a handful of Trojans can put themselves in positions to contend for, or outright win, a starting job.
Let's take a look at who those guys are.
DB Josh Shaw
We know Josh Shaw will be a starter in USC's defense for 2014, but where he will start is still up for debate.
The defensive back missed the spring because of a stress fracture in his foot, and while he was out, head coach Steve Sarkisian told the media at practice that "potentially we could have Josh Shaw back there too," as a safety.
Shaw has been at corner since he arrived at USC in 2012, as crippling depth issues forced the Trojans to slide this dynamic playmaker over from safety. The move proved to be a good one for USC. In 2013 alone, he had 67 tackles and four interceptions, tied for second most on the team.
During spring camp, Shaw maintained that he would stay at corner, and now that he's doing summer workouts, he can back that up.
A dominant physical presence on the boundary, Shaw can use the 7-on-7 periods to reinforce that he is much more of an asset to the Trojans opposite Kevon Seymour.
CB Chris Hawkins
While Josh Shaw is reminding everyone that he belongs at corner, Chris Hawkins should be trying to dispel that notion.
Hawkins spent all of spring lining up in place of Shaw opposite Kevon Seymour. He had a very productive month of practices and proved himself to be a quality backup should Shaw return to claim his spot.
But if Hawkins wants to vie for the starting job, it's important he displays a strong work ethic and improved coverage skills during 7-on-7 drills.
The odds are against Hawkins to dethrone Shaw as the starter, but if he wants to encourage the coaches to seriously consider moving Shaw to safety, he can lay down the foundation for that this summer.
LB Quinton Powell
Quinton Powell is outright competing for a starting job, so summer sessions are important for him to reverse the very, very slight edge Jabari Ruffin has over him.
During the spring, Powell started camp getting reps with the first team, but because of Ruffin's effort, Powell ended camp running with the twos. That doesn't mean Ruffin has this all locked up, though.
Powell displayed excellent skills in coverage and a certain tenacity at the line of scrimmage, something that defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will like in his linebackers in the new scheme.
He's only been in Troy a year, but he's developed enough in that time by way of appearances on special teams and in blowouts to compete for quality time in the starting rotation.
LB Jabari Ruffin
Jabari Ruffin carries the advantage over Quinton Powell into fall camp, and if he wants to keep it, he will treat his summer workouts as if they are an extension of his audition for the starting job at Sam linebacker.
He started spring camp with the second unit but performed and progressed well enough to finish it with the first team, bumping Quinton Powell down a peg. This competition is far from over, and we can expect that it will spill over into 7-on-7 sessions this month.
The coaches won't be there to see the competition, but the better, more game-ready Sam will reveal himself in August.
LB Anthony Sarao
Lamar Dawson's season-ending injury back in October gave way to Anthony Sarao's emergence this past season, and he made the most of it. He had 44 tackles in 2013, 2.5 for loss. His biggest game came in USC's upset of Stanford, where he had 12 total tackles on the night.
He's done enough to keep his job as a starter, especially considering Dawson has never truly stood out in USC's defense, despite the coveted No. 55 he sports on his back.
Dawson will sit out of summer workouts so that he can be ready for the fall, but his prolonged absence gives Sarao more time to further cement himself as the starter at Will linebacker.
In summer workouts, Sarao can keep the scales tilted in his favor by showing that he is ready to command a prominent role in the scheme like the veteran defensive players do.