Armond Armstead is missing all of spring practice after being hospitalized in March with chest pain. Wes Horton and Christian Tupou both missed the first half of spring practice and could miss more before they're fully healthy.
That means three of the top four USC defensive linemen have been out of commission this spring, and that means that USC defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is displeased with his line's play thus far.
"We've gotta get better," Orgeron said Tuesday. "We gotta get better on our pass rush. We can't have guys running the football on us. We've gotta dominate -- that's USC football and that's it."
The line was a disappointment last fall too, when Orgeron and head coach Lane Kiffin expected it to be the Trojans' most dominant unit and it was instead only average, departed junior tackle Jurrell Casey making impacts in most games but most other players flashing big-play ability only at times. There were games when the linemen were dominant, like the Cal and UCLA victories. There were also games when the linemen were dominated by their offensive line counterparts, like the Oregon and Oregon State losses.
Orgeron expects that to be different this year. He expects his linemen to be consistent difference-makers.
"They better be," he said. "They're gonna be. We understand the effort, the commitment now. It's not all new now -- we've simplified the things on defense to where there shouldn't be as much thinking and they should play faster. That should help us."
"We've gotta dominate."
Last year, Orgeron says, was full of linemen making the "wrong mistakes at the wrong mistakes." They plan to fix that with the simplifying of the process. And the linemen themselves think that'll work just fine.
"I feel like between me, Nick and [Armond Armstead], when he gets back, we're all pretty good pass-rushers," defensive end Wes Horton said. "We're all good at playing the run. I feel like we'll kinda get back to that, get back to letting us cut loose and do what we do. That's what spring ball's all about: getting our fundamentals down."
Part of the issue is the practice competition this spring. The Trojans have just six offensive linemen available in practice -- and only "legitimate college player," as Kiffin said -- meaning that the defensive guys don't have steady players to go up against and improve against in the spring. USC's always had that in the past, but they don't have that this year.
"We are nowhere near where we need to be, as far as on both sides of the ball. Really, when he had the championship years we had two full units going against each other, competing like heck. Right now we're not yet there but we're gonna get there, we feel, with the recruitment of this class coming in that's gonna help us build some depth along the line of scrimmages and some competition.
"We just don't have what we want right now, but it's gonna change."