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Thursday, August 18, 2011
Second safety spot the most scrambled

By Pedro Moura

There are quite a few position battles in USC's fall camp this year, including at offensive guard, at receiver, at corner and even at tight end, now, with Rhett Ellison spending most of his time playing fullback.

But arguably the most interesting battle of the fall is at strong safety, where the Trojans have four legitimate competitors for only one spot in Demetrius Wright, Drew McAllister, Jawanza Starling and Marshall Jones.

And the most interesting thing about it? All the players are at different levels of their career and all are different types of players.

And it's hard to separate them.

"It's hard to tell with us," McAllister said Thursday, when asked how this competition compares with past ones he has been a part of. "It's a little bit different than before with older guys like Taylor [Mays] and Kevin [Ellison]. Those guys were older than I was and then when Kevin went down I got to play a little bit.

"Now it's different because we have a bunch of guys who are right around the same age, but I think it's good because we all get to compete against each other in practice, day in and day out. That kind of makes everybody better."

McAllister's point about guys being around the same age isn't exactly correct -- Jones, currently out because of a knee injury, is in his fifth year at USC, McAllister in his fourth, Starling in his third and Wright in his second. But it still stands, because it is a lot different than it was before when Mays and Ellison were Trojans.

Why? Because there's no old-young split, no huge difference between returners and newcomers. This season, all four safeties are returning and all four have reasonably similar levels of experience -- three of the four having started some games but not a full season. And the fourth, Wright, may be the current favorite to win the job.

Coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this week the No. 1 thing he's looking for from his second, or strong, safety this season is an ability to tackle well and tackle often. Some of the four guys have proven to be good at tackling; some haven't. Wright's probably the best tackler of the bunch, with Jones a solid second and Starling gaining ground of late. McAllister is much more known for his ballhawking abilities.

So, to win the job, will he have to re-adjust his focus on bringing down the ballcarrier instead of intercepting the ball?

"Not necessarily," McAllister said. "When you play defense, you're gonna have to tackle. When you get to college, if you're gonna play, you're gonna have to know how to form tackle and that kind of stuff. That's just something that we've been focusing on a little more in film, with different drills and working on our angles.

"It's not really something that you have to change, you just have to sort of emphasize it more and work on it."