May 25, 2009

Hand on the ground

The defensive line experienced a renaissance of sorts this spring, led by new position coach Jethro Franklin. He transformed a group that was thought to be a liability into one of the strengths of the entire team.

In about a month, the new crop of Trojans will arrive on campus for summer workouts, including several big name defensive linemen.

With the loss of Fili Moala, Kyle Moore and Clay Matthews it appeared that at least some of the newcomers would need to step in right away and contribute. But after terrorizing the quarterbacks all spring, the remaining defensive linemen made a statement that their spots on the depth chart would not be handed out like government cheese.

Defensive Tackle

Walnut (Calif.) Mt. San Antonio C.C. defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo is amazingly agile for his 6-foot-2, 320-pound frame. This fall he will get a look at the 3-technique (defensive tackle) and nose guard, but look for Fangupo to settle in at tackle and fight for Moala's old spot.

The defensive tackle position was filled in the spring by Averell Spicer, Derek Simmons and DaJohn Harris.

Spicer moved over from the nose and thrived this spring in Franklin's system. Although a couple of personal foul penalties put him in the doghouse last year, the senior has a ton of experience so it will be difficult for Fangupo to overtake him, at least at first.

The backup spot is wide open, with Simmons and Harris battling for reps this spring. Simmons could be the dark horse here, after moving from the offensive line back to the defensive line in the spring. Franklin coached Simmons during his first tenure at USC and liked what he saw, so another few months getting used to playing defense again should be a boost to Simmons' game.

Fangupo is more than capable of giving all of these guys a run for their money, making this an interesting position battle to watch in the fall.

Defensive End

Two talented defensive ends will join the Trojans this summer, including one of the top recruits in the country.

Devon Kennard out of Desert Vista High School in Phoenix is the top ranked defensive end in the nation, and the No. 8 overall prospect on the Rivals100. He has continually torn through his competition throughout his high school career, summer camps and All-Star games, but will he be able to continue that streak when he arrives at USC?

Kevin Greene hails from Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco and while only playing two years of organized football, he amassed 45 sacks during that time frame. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound athlete appears tailor made for the elephant position played in the past by guys like Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.

Greene could actually play linebacker at USC, but he is already up to 250-pounds so we expect him to stay on the line.

Both Kennard and Greene have talent to spare, but they will have their work cut out for them in the fall.

LA Jordan four-star athlete James Boyd outdueled fellow quarterback Matt Barkley during their matchup in 2008. But Boyd will make his splash for the Trojans on the other side of the ball, tackling running backs instead of handing the ball off to them.

Boyd is capable of being an X-factor at defensive end, but will probably need to add a few pounds to make a serious run his freshman year.

Both starting defensive ends wound up being selected in the NFL draft, but the cupboard wasn't left bare for Franklin. The defensive end spot is chock full of young athletes that proved their worth in the spring, led by former starter Everson Griffen.

Griffen fell behind the hard working Matthews last year, but he has now rededicated himself to becoming not only a better player but also a leader. He is a freak athlete and was arguably USC's best player during spring football. He was the Kennard of a couple of years ago, and he has now turned all that potential into an All-American in the making.

Former tackle Armond Armstead slid his 290-pounds over to defensive end this spring and earned the starting spot opposite Griffen. The coaches love his size and desire, and the boatload of sacks he compiled didn't hurt either.

Sophomore Malik Jackson and redshirt freshmen Wes Horton and Nick Perry all had impressive showings in the spring. Top to bottom, Franklin has a speedy group that can run down the quarterback and contain the ground game.

So if Kennard or Greene plan on cracking the two-deep, they will need to make an amazing first impression and continue to improve throughout fall camp.

Ryan Abraham can be reached at ryan@uscfootball.com. Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more early position-battle breakdowns and player profiles of the incoming freshmen.



 

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