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July 14, 2008The poster for the University of Southern California's 2008 football schedule has Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga prominently displayed front and center. Lurking behind them, however, is Kevin Ellison - one of the leaders of what may be the team's deep position. And while Cary Harris - the other leader - won't say which is the more talented group, he openly recognizes the potential of the Trojan secondary.
"The depth is there, for the first time since I've been here we're really deep in the secondary," Harris said after Friday morning's team-run. "We've got three three-year players coming back between (Kevin Thomas), Shareece (Wright) and (Josh) Pinkard, and TJ (Bryant) is looking really good, too.
"Everybody will be able to get their rest and not have to take as many reps during (fall camp) and reduce that chance of getting injured."
Staying healthy, as Harris mentioned, may be the key to the secondary's success this year, as each of the four top cornerbacks have battled injuries throughout their careers. And should that not be a problem, Harris believes there isn't a better unit in the country.
"We're trying to be the best secondary in the country," Harris said. "So we're taking practice very seriously to achieve that. That, for us, is limiting the big play, being physical and taking advantage of opportunities when they're presented to us.
"We know that the easiest way to lose a game is to get beat deep, so we have to take care of that and don't give up any easy touchdowns by not making any mental mistakes.
"Even though we don't get the credit sometimes, we don't care about that. As long as we're doing our job we're happy."
Because of the focus on limiting big plays, the cornerback's role within head coach Pete Carroll's defensive philosophy does not allow for nearly as many interceptions as other schemes. However, Harris believes there is more to playing good football than a few interceptions.
"It's hard because you see those guys with all the stats, but I just want to play within the defense," he said. "When it's all said and done, hopefully the people that matter will see the type of players we all are.
"So I just want to be physical and be a ball hawk. Try to be around the ball, whether that's breaking up the pass or picking it off, I just want to be there for my team and have them know they can count on me."
Ultimately it is not whether one unit is better than the other, it's the defense as a whole working in unison to win football games, and Harris is confident in the new starters and the early promise they have shown.
"The defense is looking really good," he said. "We did lose a couple key guys, but we've got other guys stepping up in their roles. We've got a lot of guys who've got experience over the years, and are now looking to be starters."
In addition to the returning players, Harris has been paying close attention to two new additions to the defensive secondary: Bryant and Brian Baucham.
"Right now, I'm trying to just let them go and let them learn the defense," Harris said about the freshmen corners. "Once they know that then we can move on to little technique stuff.
"I'm letting them do what they've been doing because it's what got them here. But as far as the defensive scheme, when we're doing seven-on-seven or team drills I'll tell them some small things about the way we work."
Whether or not the secondary ever receives the credit they are due, Harris isn't worried.
"We know what we can do, and that's all that matters."
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more updates on the secondary and the entire team as they continue on with summer workouts.