Spring position preview: CBs

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
7:27
PM PT
We’re doing position previews in the weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down one group’s depth chart each day, paying special attention to things that can change in the spring.

We’ve looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers so far. Today, we analyze the cornerbacks.

Here's an honest truth: USC didn't have a real cornerbacks coach last season.

Once secondary coach Willie Mack Garza resigned just before the start of the regular season last September, graduate assistant Sammy Knight took over for him and did a commendable job, according to Lane Kiffin and his players. But Knight was a college and NFL safety and a true safeties' specialist, and he had very little experience coaching corners, if any at all.

That ended up hurting the Trojans significantly. Torin Harris and Tony Burnett both struggled last season and showed little week-to-week improvement. Junior-college transfer Isiah Wiley took longer to develop than USC envisioned.

Both of those things can be directly traced to the absence of a true cornerbacks coach. That, however, will no longer be an issue in 2012, not with new defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders now in the fold.

Sanders has a reputation as an elite corners coach. He's had a number of his players at that position drafted high over the years, including Prince Amukamara last year and Alfonzo Dennard this year.

What kind of impact can he make on USC's cornerback group?

There's certainly a lot of talent. This spring alone, he'll be able to work with two-year starter Nickell Robey, Wiley, Burnett and senior Brian Baucham -- plus redshirt freshman Ryan Henderson, one of the most athletic prospects across the country in the Class of 2011.

Burnett will be splitting his time with track, but Sanders could also have Florida transfer Josh Shaw, who will play either safety or corner. And Harris and Anthony Brown are expected back from season-ending surgeries at some point soon.

It isn't as necessary to find the second starting corner over the next month and a half as much as it's necessary to find a top four of sorts. Wiley will be in that mix and Brown probably will be too when he's healthy, but who else can Sanders and the Trojans count on as a reliable nickel-corner type to defend the passing offenses of the Pac-12?

Check back Friday for the safeties and Monday as we conclude our series with the special-teamers.

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