A two-way race at defensive end
August, 8, 2012
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- J.R. Tavai found out on Sunday.
With Devon Kennard out for the foreseeable future because of a torn pectoral muscle, coachLane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron decided that the sophomore would be playing defensive end in his place and freshman Leonard Williams would be at defensive tackle.
It's a move motivated by two things: A need for an experienced player at Kennard's vacated end spot and a desire to put Williams at the spot where he can make the biggest, quickest impact. This seems as if it fulfills both of those, as Tavai logged time in seven games last season and the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Williams is getting too big to play defensive end.
"We want to see if we can do this," Orgeron said after Tuesday's practice, the Trojans' second of fall camp. "We don't know yet."
What they do know is this: If Tavai stays at end, it will be a two-way race between him and redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr. to start there on Day 1.
Townsend's the more athletic one, but Tavai is more savvy and more experienced. They make for good complements.
"I've gotta push J.R. and he's gotta push me," Townsend said Tuesday. "We've got different skillsets, and I think that's going to work to the team's advantage."
Tavai has taken more of the first-team reps thus far, though the first two days of camp aren't exactly the most meaningful of the year. Still, it'd be somewhat of an upset if Townsend starts over him against Hawaii.
At the three-technique tackle position, Williams has shown flashes as George Uko's backup. The role makes sense for him because he can develop into it as the year goes on without the sort of pressure he might have received at end.
Townsend said Williams has "really shocked" him in camp.
"He's so explosive," Townsend said. "And he's showed a lot of maturity and a lot of things you don't see in freshmen."
Kiffin said following the battle between Townsend and Tavai and filling out the rest of the defensive-line rotation will be a "very important story over the next couple weeks."
Orgeron, who has been disappointed with his defensive line the past two seasons, said he's confident that this group will perform -- but still unsure who exactly the performers will be.
"We just don't have a lot of experience," he said. "How are we going to react in a game-time situation? We have not been dominant at the line of scrimmage since I've been back and this line really has to improve fast.
"I don't know what's gonna happen in a game with these guys."