The eighth of a 10-part series that looks at where Pac-10 teams are strongest and weakest as they begin spring practices.
Strong: Front seven
Why it's a strength: USC listed 24 front-seven players on its 2009 defensive depth chart, and just four are not returning: end Everson Griffen, tackle Averell Spicer and linebackers Nick Garratt and Uona Kaveinga. Only Griffen was a starter. That sort of experience is certainly a strength, one that in past years might have struck fear into future opponents. The Trojans, however, were not dominant up front last year, ranking fifth in the Pac-10 against the run. Still, despite a sub-par year by USC's standards, the defense still ranked first in the conference in scoring (19.8 points per game). Moreover, 16 of these returning front-seven players were freshmen or sophomores last fall. There should be significant improvement with new coordinator Monte Kiffin and fiery defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. Players like junior tackle Jurrell Casey, sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard, sophomore end Nick Perry and junior tackle/end Armond Armstead could take a step toward stardom.
Weak: The secondary
Why it's a weakness: The Trojans are replacing all four starters -- multi-year starters at that -- including free safety Taylor Mays. That's four of the top seven tacklers. Moreover, the leader to replace Mays, Drew McAllister, will miss the spring due to hip surgery. Of course, the Trojans are hardly devoid of talent, particularly with the return of cornerback Shareece Wright. Wright, widely regarded as the team's best cover corner, would have started last year but he was academically ineligible. And there are plenty of promising youngsters on the depth chart who have already seen action, including corners T.J. Bryant and Brian Baucham and safety T.J.McDonald. Still, this is a unit in transition that will face an outstanding crew of experienced Pac-10 quarterbacks.