Under the radar: USC

We're continuing with our under the radar series.

The idea is to pick out a player who is not a big name but who may be underrated. Or, at least, a guy who will need to step up and play a critical role in 2012.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

USC: DE Devon Kennard

2011 production: Appeared in all 12 games and started five. He recorded 29 tackles -- four for a loss and two sacks with a safety.

Making the case for Kennard: We hear there’s a blonde-haired, sword-toting quarterback who seems to be flying under the radar. But we’re still not sure how he’s going to pan out so we’ll keep our distance from him for now. That brings us to Kennard, a versatile defender who has spent a little time at middle linebacker, but finally settled back on defensive end.

He’s started parts of the past two seasons, so he’s known to USC fans. But with Nick Perry gone to the NFL, Kennard's role and visibility are going to increase along with Wes Horton. For his career, which includes 18 starts, Kennard has 135 tackles and 13 for a loss. Some of those include his time as a middle linebacker in 2010. Kennard is a senior leader on a defensive line that doesn’t have a great deal of depth. And while USC’s starting 11 might be as talented player-for-player as anyone in the conference, there are some untested players behind him. So the pressure is on Kennard to no longer be under the radar -- but to emerge as that Perry-esque player who can dominate in the run game and pass rush. All reports are that he had an outstanding spring session. At 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, he certainly has the size to put up Perry-like numbers (led the conference in sacks with 9.5 last season). With the experience he has in the scheme and an increased role, Kennard could be the breakout player on USC’s defense in 2012.