Big-bodied Hebron Fangupo (6-2, 330, Jr.) returns after rehabbing his broken leg from last season to join Co-defensive linemen of the year Jurrell Casey (6-1, 295, Jr.) and Christian Tupou (6-2, 285, Sr.) as the trio drawing the early attention inside.
No surprise there. Casey started all 13 games, two at nose tackle, while Tupou started there the other 11 at nose. Now DE Armond Armstead (6-5, 295, Jr.) got the other two DT starts when Casey went to nose.
But can that trio get the defensive front back to USC-level good, Mike Patterson/Shaun Cody/Sedrick Ellis good, Ed Orgeron-level good? And is returning from a defense that gave up 102 points to Stanford and Oregon in a three-week span all that good a thing?
OK, maybe not that good. But good enough "to be in the upper echelon of the Pac-10 defensive lines," Orgeron says in what he clearly meant as a statement of the reality here right now as well as a compliment and an encouragement to get with the program.
But all have real work to do as any USC fan watching last year's pair of Pac-10 blowouts well knows. At least Fangupo will have two years to do so now, thanks to the NCAA ruling reinstating his season from a year ago after his injury.
Casey has shown lots of moments but now has to string a series of plays and games into a whole season to get anywhere near Patterson territory in terms of persistence, toughness, sheer dominance and a mention as a solid All-Pac-10, even All-American prospect.
Tupou has always been a "big-effort guy" but he's clearly got to get more athletic and involved as a senior. Backing up again will be Derek Simmons (6-4, 285, Sr.) and DaJohn Harris (6-4, 295, So.).
Armstead is the kind of big-bodied defensive end Orgeron has said he's always liked but will he be able to show he can handle the outside with all the stop-start/change-direction moves a player has to make on the edge after getting a start there in the Emerald Bowl.
He won't be alone. Sophomores Wes Horton (6-5, 255) and Nick Perry (6-3, 250) started 10 games between them at DE (Horton nine) and they're joined by junior Malik Jackson (6-5, 245) in a position that had players rotating between outside linebacker and the defensive front a year ago.
Devon Kennard (6-3, 255, So.) won the John McKay Award after three starts as a strong side linebacker but he went into last season as a DE and also had a start there.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFOOTBALL.COM. You can reach him at [email protected].