Picking up where he left off after a strong performance in the spring, Josh Shaw has stood out during the team’s volunteer passing sessions this summer, both for his lights-out play as well as his bulked-up physical build.
“I’m in great shape right now,” said Shaw after a recent workout on Cromwell Field. “I’ve added some muscle to my frame since spring ball, so right now I’m about 6-foot-and-a-half and a solid 205 pounds. I put on about 12 pounds since the spring, and I’m moving well with it, so I’m feeling really good out here.”
With the added weight, combined with his aggressiveness and natural ball-hawking skills, Shaw appears to be a perfect fit at strong safety -- where he lined up in the spring -- and has continued to do so throughout the summer. That might come as a surprise to some, because it was just three months ago that, with the Trojans cornerback corps not exactly performing up to par, USC head coach Lane Kiffin brought up the possibility of bringing the redshirt junior -- who started seven games at corner in 2012 -- back to CB.
“We just talked about that this week, actually,” Kiffin said April 6 of a potential move for Shaw. “If Dion [Bailey] goes back to safety, that might be something that we do.”
Bailey has made the transition from linebacker back to the secondary, lining up at free safety this summer, but Shaw hasn’t been given any indication by Kiffin or defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast that he’s going anywhere. And while things could always change down the line, the Trojans look set to go with what they currently have at cornerback -- a group that includes Anthony Brown, Torin Harris, Kevon Seymour, Ryan Henderson, Devian Shelton, Chris Hawkins and Ryan Dillard.
“I haven’t heard anything about it at all since this past spring,” said Shaw, who arrived at USC in 2012 as a transfer from Florida after attending Palmdale (Calif.) High. “And it was never brought up to me directly -- I just heard it from outside sources. From talking to Coach Pendergast, and having our post-spring evaluations and all of that, I’ll be playing safety. But I can definitely see why it was something that they were thinking about, because they just wanted more production from the corner spot. But I think right now during the summer, we’ve had time to gel and to just come out here and play football, and the cornerbacks have gotten a lot better.”
And that's just fine with Shaw, who feels more than at home at safety, especially with a new defensive scheme set in place that has him excited to hit the field each day.
“In this defense, I love playing at safety,” Shaw said. “It’s a lot different than last year. In this 3-4 defense you have to be a general. You’re asked to do a lot. You’re asked to know everything and you have to have a certain skill-set to be back there and play. I just love it.”
But as is the case with every position in the secondary, the strong safety spot is still completely up for grabs. And while Shaw has been arguably the most consistent performer throughout the spring and summer, he has a battle on his hands with star early-entrant freshman Su'a Cravens -- who was listed atop the post-spring depth chart along with Shaw -- as well as hard-hitting senior Gerald Bowman. For Shaw, though, the competition is something that he’s welcomed, and he believes that it’s only making everyone involved better in the long run.
“It’s open and it’s definitely bringing out the best in all of us because there’s just so much competition,” Shaw said. “You can see it, guys are getting after it out here, just trying to get better to put themselves in the position to be on the field this season.”
With what Shaw has shown, however, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to regard him as the favorite to land the starting job -- not just because of his stellar play, but also because of his emergence as a team leader. One of the more experienced members of the defensive backfield, he’s been noticeably vocal this offseason.
“I’ve definitely taken an active leadership role,” Shaw said. “I’ve truly embraced it. You know, with guys like T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Nickell Robey leaving, somebody had to step up. I talked to T.J. before he left and he told me that I was next in line, and I really learned a lot from him. Now I’m just trying to help all of these guys gel together, and this summer has been very pivotal for us. We’ve been meshing, doing things together, watching film and doing whatever we need to do to make sure that when we start up practice, we’re going to have a good group back there, and everyone will be able to count on us.”
That’s good news for Kiffin and Co., particularly with fall camp less than three weeks away. As for Shaw, who looks poised for a big season, it simply can’t come soon enough.
“Marqise [Lee] and I were just working out on Sunday and we were talking about it -- I just can’t wait to get the pads on. It seems like it’s been so long ... less than a month away now. I just can’t wait.”