USC Trojans wide receiver Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 2012. Could USC head coach Lane Kiffin seriously consider switching a player of that caliber to a new position — on defense?
The possibility of Lee playing defense first emerged last season along with serious troubles in the Trojans’ secondary. No one emerged to man the cornerback spot opposite junior Nickell Robey, and opponents quickly realized the key to big yardage was just to throw it away from Robey. Lee, who primarily played safety in high school at Serra High School, approached Kiffin partway through the year and asked to play cornerback.
Kiffin might have flirted briefly with the idea, but he ultimately decided Lee was far too valuable a weapon to take from the offense. Lee played just one season at receiver in high school, but he immediately became an impact player for the Trojans as a freshman, opposite Robert Woods.
When the idea was first floated, Kiffin told reporters if Lee played defense, he could easily be a first-round pick as a defensive back, but the coach stopped short of giving him a chance to prove it, instead moving safety Josh Shaw, a transfer from Florida, to corner.
With the departure of senior safety T.J. McDonald, Shaw returned to his natural position in the spring, but despite an excellent offseason showing, he might not stay there long. Kiffin suggested Shaw will likely have to shift back to cornerback, and he mentioned giving both Lee and sophomore receiver Nelson Agholor a shot there as well.
Kiffin admitted he didn’t want to risk injuries (Lee missed some of spring workouts with a knee injury) and is afraid giving his top two receivers more playing time on the other side of the ball would negatively impact the offense, but one never knows what a desperate man will do. With fans already calling for his head, Kiffin will be in a very desperate predicament if the defense doesn’t improve.
Is Lee the answer to the defense’s troubles? Probably not — but he certainly can’t be any worse than what the Trojans already have.
Will Kiffin make a very daring decision to move the nation’s best wide receiver to defense?
It’s Lane Kiffin, so nothing’s off the table, but he shouldn’t be in any rush to throw Lee on defense. It’s a new season with a clean slate, and there’s still plenty of time for someone else to emerge as a solid starter in the secondary. Besides, breaking in a new quarterback to start the year, the Trojans should want all hands on deck to help make that to-be-determined QB’s transition as smooth as possible.
If the secondary is that bad, a move partway through the season could make sense. The new quarterback would need to have developed enough chemistry with Agholor and whomever the No. 3 receiver is to make it worth sacrificing Lee, even part time.
If the offense can survive without him, and if the season hasn’t already gone too far down the tubes, he could be a valuable stop-gap on defense as the offense begins to become accustomed to Life Without Lee. The true junior is just too good to stick around for one last season when he’ll be a likely first-rounder, regardless of where he lines up for USC in 2013.