Spring position preview: Safeties

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, linebackers and cornerbacks so far. Today, we analyze the safeties.

T.J. McDonald will start at one safety spot for the USC Trojans in 2012. Will Jawanza Starling?

Most likely. The two players, seniors-to-be both, have essentially held down their respective starting positions for the last two years. Starling had a rough final stretch of the 2010 season but rebounded to be a steady presence throughout 2011.

But, based strictly on personnel, Starling is due to get some intense competition for his spot. Drew McAllister is going to be a senior; Demetrius Wright will be a junior.

Josh Shaw, a Florida transfer, is clearly starter-caliber as a defensive back. It's just a matter of (1) whether he'll be eligible in 2012 and (2) whether he'll play corner or safety. And Gerald Bowman was probably good enough to start in the Pac-12 last season while he was a ju-co player.

New defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders is going to have to give all these guys at least a shot at unseating Starling, but it's going to be interesting to see how it's approached.

The safety position is also a perfect example of a bigger question surrounding the Trojans. In general, what time of approach are they going to take to this year's spring practice? Is it going to be treated strictly as a venue for young players to get better, or is a big focus going to be placed on the position with new coaches getting acclimated to a new style?

Will players like McDonald and Starling get a lot of rest so that Sanders can see as much of Wright and Shaw as possible?

USC did do some of that last spring when linebacker Chris Galippo sat out the entire month to keep his back healthy, but that arguably ended up hurting him when he lost his starting spot in November. There's definitely a benefit to sitting out some of the spring as a returning starter (or at least taking it easy), but it's also a cost that has to be weighed in contrast.

McDonald's a perfect example of a rest candidate.

Check back Monday for the special-teamers and our final spring-practice preview before it officially starts Tuesday.