McDonald moves around on defense

For their most intriguing move of the year to date, USC's defensive coaches drew inspiration from their Tennessee days.

Coach Lane Kiffin indicated that USC's defensive staffers -- dad Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, primarily -- are modeling some of their current usage of Trojan safety T.J. McDonald off of their one year with Eric Berry at UT.

Both Kiffins and Orgeron coached Berry for one season with the Volunteers, in 2009, before heading west to L.A. the following January. Berry also declared for the draft after that season.

But Berry was capable of playing at various spots on the field as a collegian, especially by his junior year, and USC's current coaches took advantage of that. And when they synthesized how good McDonald has been in special-teams situations where he had a chance to rush the pocket with their need to get more healthy linemen, they realized they could use McDonald in other spots on occasion.

And so they have. McDonald has been lining up at other spots on the field in recent games -- most notably at defensive end.

"It really kind of came from watching T.J. blocking kicks and how well he rushed," Lane Kiffin said Monday. "So, OK, what if we put that type of speed (on defense)?

"It allows us to get some reps there with some speed and obviously we can drop two and do all the things in coverage as well."

McDonald hasn't always played the role of a typical safety. Even last year, his pre-snap placement varied quite a bit. But it's been taken to a new level this season.

"I like it," McDonald said Monday. "I like a little bit of everything. I'm moving around a lot, which is cool, and I'm just trying to do everything they ask me to."

Secondary coach Marvin Sanders said McDonald still "sits in all" the defensive back meetings, so he doesn't mind the partial move.

"I don't lose him at all," Sanders said.

McDonald's defensive teammates noticed his pass-rush abilities and understood the next logical step.

"He always comes off the edge when he's on the defensive line and on punt block or kick block," cornerback Nickell Robey said. "He uses his hands well -- Coach O gives him tips -- and he does a great job giving us an extra defensive lineman."