To prepare for the start of the 2012 USC campaign, we’re doing position-by-position previews of the Trojans’ roster all this week. We began Monday with quarterbacks and continued Tuesday with running backs, Wednesday with receivers and tight ends and Thursday with offensive linemen.
Today, we look at the defensive line.
For each position, we’re starting with a projected current depth chart, going off the end-of-spring depth chart as released by Lane Kiffin, and discussing what needs to be resolved by Sept. 1.
1. Devon Kennard, senior*
2a. Morgan Breslin, junior
2b. Leonard Williams, freshman
2c. Greg Townsend Jr., redshirt freshman
1. J.R. Tavai, sophomore
2. Antwaun Woods, redshirt freshman
3. Cody Temple, redshirt freshman
1. George Uko, redshirt sophomore
2. Christian Heyward, redshirt freshman
3. Zack Kusnir, redshirt senior
1. Wes Horton, redshirt senior
2. Kevin Greene, redshirt junior
3. Charles Burks, redshirt freshman
4. DeVante Wilson, freshman
*Will miss most of the 2012 regular season, if not all
Two of the three most interesting position battles of the USC Trojans' fall camp will take place on the defensive line, and they'll be right next to each other.
With Kennard now out for the foreseeable future because of a torn pectoral muscle, much of the next month for defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will be consumed by an all-out competition to replace him. The Trojans have plenty of defensive ends on the roster, but they only have one proven and healthy one.
If forced to pick a replacement, Breslin might be the best bet to start on opening day because of his physical development and junior-college experience, but Williams and Townsend Jr. make the most sense long-term. The most likely solution is a three- or four-headed tandem splitting the snaps early on until one player emerges.
One thing's for sure: Horton's going to be on the field a lot, as will Uko, USC's most explosive lineman. He has to be a consistent pass-rushing threat this season for the Trojans' defense to be successful.
At the other tackle spot, Tavai is more aware and more experienced than Woods, but Woods clearly has more untapped athleticism and potential. Tavai's the safer choice, but he has very little impact-play ability.
Before Temple got hurt in the spring, he was getting positive reviews from Orgeron and Co. Heyward was supposed to be a potential first- or second-year contributor when he arrived at USC last summer, but he fell through the cracks. At least one -- and preferably both -- of those guys needs to be able to handle 15 snaps a game starting in September.
Wilson, coming off a torn ACL, is likely to redshirt. Kusnir is a walk-on with some serious special-teams experience.
Will Burks stay at end or move somewhere else for the future? And will any potential impact players be moved to defensive end to try to account for the loss of Kennard?
We'll know more in a few weeks. But this position group is definitely subject to change.