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Thursday, February 16, 2012
Q&A: Lane Kiffin, part two

By Kevin Gemmell

USC head coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball and likely a lofty preseason ranking to back it up. Kiffin took a few minutes to chat about this year's recruiting class, the few holes on offense and defense that have to be filled and what he can do to cut down on quarterback-center exchange fumbles.

Here's part one of the Q&A.

Looking at the defense, you have the entire back seven coming back. Everyone talks about offense in this conference, but you have to be able to play defense. What's the next step for them as a unit?

Lane Kiffin: We've got to get better at pass defense. You look at our numbers two years ago, they were terrible. We've improved a little bit. But we still have a long ways to go in pass defense. We were good against the run last year. We improved in the red zone. But we've got to do a better job against the pass. This conference is so good. So many good quarterbacks and receivers, you can't just stop the run in this conference so we have to improve there. It's exciting to have the whole back seven back -- we actually even have Torin Harris coming back. I almost feel like it's the back eight. Torin Harris was our starting corner and was playing as well as anybody prior to losing him for the season.

Not everyone understands just how important a really good fullback is. How much will Rhett Ellison be missed?

LK: Really, I think outside of Matt Kalil, we don't lose very much except for one person. Everyone is really back except for Matt -- obviously a talented player and a top-five pick. And Rhett. Now he won't be that high of a draft pick, but he was so valuable on special teams and for us as a fullback. He played tight end, too. He gave defenses a lot of problems by not knowing where in the huddle he's going to line up and what formation we're going to end up in.

Speaking of Matt, is that left tackle spot the marquee position battle to keep an eye on in the spring?

LK: We don't know exactly how it's going to work. We're going to let Kevin Graf and Aundrey Walker, right now our top two tackles, both play right and left and see how it goes early on.

How big of an adjustment is it for Kevin to make the move from right to left?

LK: He used to play left tackle when he was younger so that helps. There is an adjustment period. It's fortunate we're looking at it in the spring and don't have to wait until the fall.

On the defensive line, do you move Wes Horton or Devon Kennard to the opposite side to replace Nick Perry, or do you fill that slot with someone else and keep depth?

LK: We're looking at a couple of things. Probably leaning toward playing Wes at right and Devon at left. But we'll figure it out this spring.

Defensive line is the spot where it seems you have the most holes. Is this an opportunity for some of the pups to come in and start, or would you rather defer to experience?

LK: What's good is you look at the 30 guys we signed a year ago, there were some guys that could have helped us that we let redshirt, so that would divide that class of 30 and knock some of those guys back into this next class. A number of those guys were defensive linemen. What's good is those guys have been in our program a year already. Even though they haven't played, it's like they are in this class right here with a year under their belt.