LOS ANGELES -- There was a lot of attention paid to the performance of Matt Barkley and the wide-open USC offense after the Syracuse game. But there was also an important appearance on the defensive side of the ball which was worth noting.
After redshirting in 2010 and undergoing surgeries on both hips, Trojans junior safety Drew McAllister made his 2011 season debut against the Orange. McAllister might not have made any tackles or made the stat sheet, but the simple act of getting back on the field was a positive step for a player who has seen his share of injuries during his USC career.
"It felt really good getting back out there after the surgeries," said McAllister, who had also missed time earlier in his career with hamstring issues. "It takes a little bit of time to get back into the flow of the game, but it felt good. It's hard when we have to sit out. You want to be able to help contribute, especially last year, when we didn't have as good of a year as we wanted to have."
McAllister tried to play through the pain in 2010 and even saw action in two early-season games, but eventually the pain became too much to bear.
"I was kind of battling it for a while," McAllister said. "I was hoping to get through it, but it just started hindering me so much that I really couldn't go anymore and decided to shut it down. The first surgery was on the left hip and then later I had the second surgery on the right one. It was tough. My family, my mom, they were there for me the whole way. It's definitely something we got closer from."
McAllister missed all of spring practice but was able to take part in limited action during summer throwing sessions. By the time fall camp rolled around, he was healthy enough to return to the field on a full-time basis.
"Probably about halfway through fall camp is when I really started to feel good," McAllister said. "I started to get my legs back, I got a few interceptions, but it took some time to get my conditioning back and feel like I was really ready to let loose."
USC fans are pleased to see McAllister back in the fold because of his reputation as an aggressive hitter with a nose for the ball. He led the team with three interceptions as a true freshman in 2008 and started the Washington game in 2009 for an injured Taylor Mays.
The injuries might have limited his on-field participation, but they haven't reduced his knowledge of the game or his desire to be on the field. A former star quarterback at Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista HS, McAllister was offered a scholarship as a quarterback by other Pac-10 schools, including Cal, where his father, Ken, played defensive back. He was immediately moved to the defensive secondary upon arriving at USC, where he put to use his knowledge of offensive game-planning.
Garrett Green has an appreciation for the unique advantage a former quarterback has on the defensive side of the ball. Green was a quarterback at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame HS before playing several different positions, including defensive back, during his USC career from 2006-2009.
"Playing quarterback helps a player understand the intent and concepts of the plays you are running," Green said. "As a QB you have to know everyone's responsibilities, which helps not only to understand where you need to be, but also why you are expected to do what you do.
"If a player moves from QB to the defensive side of the ball, it becomes easier to understand your opponent's offense, and you may pick up on some tendencies other players may not. Drew has seen his share of injuries but he is as tough as they come, and he just knows how to make plays."
McAllister has shuttled back and forth between the two safety spots but now seems firmly entrenched as the backup to T.J. McDonald at free safety. For McAllister, it doesn't matter which spot he plays as long as he gets to be on the field and learn from respected veteran defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"There's not a ton of difference between the two spots," McAllister said. "A lot of time when we have eight-man fronts the free safety is down in the box while the strong safety is back. Other than that they are pretty interchangeable.
"This year on defense we've really been focused on taking away the deep balls and making sure we communicate. Any time you have a guy like Monte Kiffin who has been around the game for so long, you can just soak up as much as possible in terms of techniques and getting little tidbits from him when you watch film. I'm just glad to be back as part of the team."
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.