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Fall camp position preview: Defensive backs

To prepare for the start of the 2012 USC campaign, we’re doing position-by-position previews of the Trojans’ roster. We began Monday with quarterbacks and continued Tuesday with running backs, Wednesday with receivers and tight ends, Thursday with offensive linemen, Friday with defensive linemen and Saturday with linebackers.

Today, we look at the defensive backs.

For each position, we’re starting with a projected current depth chart, going off the end-of-spring depth chart as released by Lane Kiffin, and discussing what needs to be resolved by Sept. 1.

Cornerback

1. Nickell Robey, junior

2. Anthony Brown, redshirt sophomore

3. Ryan Henderson, redshirt freshman

4. Kevon Seymour, freshman

Free safety

1. T.J. McDonald, senior

2. Drew McAllister, redshirt senior

3. Josh Shaw, redshirt sophomore

Strong safety

1a. Jawanza Starling, senior

1b. Demetrius Wright, junior

3. Gerald Bowman, junior

Cornerback

1a. Isiah Wiley, senior

1b. Brian Baucham, redshirt senior

1c. Torin Harris, redshirt junior

4. Devian Shelton, freshman

This is USC's most stacked position group. And it's only to get deeper in the coming years.

But, for 2012, new defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders is going to have some interesting decisions to make in the next month. He has multiple guys vying for one strong safety slot and another four fighting for the No. 2 and No. 3 corner jobs.

Robey and McDonald are locked in. Everything else is up for grabs, and it's hard to even name a favorite at one of them.

At corner, Wiley finished off last season as the starter and got better each week. But Harris had held Wiley off before, until he got hurt, and is now healthy. Then Brown took over before he fractured his ankle, so all three of those guys can lay claim to the starting job.

Baucham had a nice spring and Henderson has elite, useful speed that could make him a factor. The top three could be any combination of Robey, Wiley, Harris, Brown, Baucham and Henderson.

At safety, Starling would appear to have a jump on Wright by virtue of his experience -- Starling's USC bio does say he "will start for his third season at strong safety as a senior in 2012" -- but he didn't comfortably emerge over Wright in the spring. And Bowman is an athletic, instinctive and intriguing prospect who could become major-college ready in a couple of months, which could mix everything up.

McAllister's listed as McDonald's backup, which would block him in some, but it's likely he'll play noteworthy snaps on defense this season -- if he's healthy. He's still the best playmaker of any Trojan defender.

Shaw, technically the third-string free safety for now, played as a true freshman for Florida before he got hurt and was a valuable reserve for the Gators last season. It's hard to see where exactly he'll get time in this packed secondary, but it'd still be a surprise if he wasn't a contributor by midseason.

We'll conclude tomorrow with special teams.