April 13, 2009

Secondary having big spring

As soon as Taylor Mays announced he'd be foregoing the NFL Draft to return to USC for his senior season, the feeling was that the Trojan secondary would be in good shape.

Add in a healthy Josh Pinkard back for a sixth season, and a defense that had been decimated by players graduating would have a very experienced back end.

But the USC secondary's effectiveness was always going to be tied directly to the rest of the defense, and through eight practices this spring, things have gone notably well.

"They're good. They're fast and have a lot of playmakers," quarterback Mitch Mustain said. "They have enough guys now where they can put them in and do some stuff with six DB's, things they couldn't do before."

After Saturday's scrimmage at the Coliseum, USC head coach Pete Carroll marveled at the number of big plays made on both sides of the ball.

"There was a lot of playmaking today. A lot of stuff happened. There were big plays on offense and big plays on defense," Carroll said. "…A lot of plays got made with guys running in front of balls and making big hits. I just thought it was a fun day to watch football with a lot of good things happening."

Sophomore cornerback T.J. Bryant was at the center of a lot of action Saturday. Covering the team's best receiver, Damian Williams, for much of the day, Bryant showed exceptional toughness and football instinct.

On one particular pass from Aaron Corp, Williams ran a flawless hitch route and Corp delivered a good ball. Bryant, in man coverage, broke with lightning quickness on the ball, getting a hand in and deflecting the pass.

If it happened one time this spring, it wouldn't be worth noting, but it hasn't. With Shareece Wright still recovering from a neck injury he suffered last season, Bryant's gotten a serious look with the starting defense.

Bryant, not a particularly big kid, has also dished out some absolutely jarring hits. Just ask D.J. Shoemate, who Bryant ran over in the flat.

For good measure, Bryant also picked up a sack in the scrimmage.

Opposite Bryant, senior cornerback Kevin Thomas bulked up during the offseason. He's always been a finesse corner, but now, he's closer to being an all-around defensive back than he's ever been.

Even with Will Harris out for the remainder of the spring because of academic issues and Drew McAllister out for the spring with a hamstring injury, the secondary is still plenty deep.

Pinkard and Marshall Jones are players who can line up at either corner or safety. Shane Horton is a big hitter and a much-improved player. Mays is one of the best players in the country. Add in Wright, the team's best corner in coverage, and the roster is stacked and ready for a talented group of incoming freshmen.

"We have the potential to do a lot of things well, but it's only potential right now," Mays said. "We have to keep fighting to find our groove. Once we do that we'll be all right.

The key to the secondary's play, though, is the front seven.

Throughout the eight spring practices, the defensive line and the linebackers have put great pressure on the quarterback.

Instead of having to play conservatively or protectively, the secondary has been able to play aggressive with the quarterback already under distress.

If that pressure up front continues during the fall, opposing passers might be in for some long days.

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