Friday, July 29, 2011
Questions for camp, No. 6: Successful switch?
By Pedro Moura
First on the list of our 10 question series for fall camp involved picking a backup for Matt Barkley; second, a look at the potential second receiver and Brice Butler's chances of earning the spot. The third question post, published Monday, involved offensive freshmen and Tuesday's defensive freshmen. The fifth question covered end Nick Perry and his big 2011 expectations.
The sixth is this: Will Devon Kennard be able to make a big, immediate impact at defensive end after spending more than a year at middle linebacker?
Kennard's talented, without a doubt. He was one of the top prospects in the United States as a high-schooler despite tearing his ACL and meniscus early in his senior season and recovered quickly enough to play right away as a backup defensive end in 2009 and even supplant Michael Morgan at strongside linebacker late in the year.
Middle linebacker was sort of a struggle for him, though. In spite of his best efforts put forth at the position in the spring and fall of 2010, he never quite got a hang of it. It's not so much mentally as it is physically -- Kennard's one of the smarter, quicker-thinking players on the squad, but his best physical traits don't entirely lend themselves to pass coverage. He often runs far too upright for a traditional Cover-2 middle linebacker.
Evidence as to his lack of productivity? In eight games as a starter, Kennard produced one solitary big play in the middle of the defense -- a sack against Hawaii in the season opener. He had one interception on the year, but that came after he had lost his spot to Chris Galippo, in the Notre Dame game in November. His only other sack came as a reserve, too.
In roughly two years since arriving on campus in the summer of 2009, Kennard has often mentioned one thing he definitely likes to do on the football field: start in a down stance. There has been talk of utilizing him as an elephant, ā la Clay Matthews in years past, and that may end up being the case, but even just playing as a straight 4-3 end makes plenty of sense.
The ideal Pac-12 end has to be able to drop back in pass coverage, anyway. With how many teams throw two tight ends three- and four-receiver sets at the Trojans with regularity, Monte Kiffin's defense is in much better shape when it can have Kennard on the field as a safety net in the passing game.
His time at linebacker wasn't a total waste. There are things he can take away from it back to end, and NFL teams might upgrade him come draft time when they see a player better-equipped to make the switch to 3-4 rush linebacker than the typical college end.
Maybe the most interesting thing about this whole situation for the Trojans is that Galippo isn't a natural Cover-2 Mike either -- but that's a story for another day. Lamar Dawson, the incoming freshman from Kentucky who was given Keith Rivers' No. 55 upon his arrival to Troy, is the most Mike-esque of the three, at least according to past precedent.
That's it for today. Friday and Monday we question who will join T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey in the secondary before moving on to off-the-field stuff in the final two questions in our series.