LOS ANGELES -- If the USC Trojans are to contend for a national title in 2012, one of the key position groups figures to be the defensive line.
National title teams are usually strong on the line with the ability to stop the run and put consistent pressure on the quarterback. The glory teams of the Pete Carroll era featured stalwarts such as Shaun Cody, Mike Patterson and Kenechi Udeze while recent big-time performers for the Cardinal and Gold include names like Sedrick Ellis, Jurrell Casey and Nick Perry.
Devon Kennard knows that the D-line is going to be an extremely important unit and he also knows that as an experienced senior, it will be up to him and fellow senior defensive end Wes Horton to lead the way.
"Me and Wes are focused on being the leaders of the line," Kennard said. "On the D-line, we believe it starts and ends with us. That's how it's been here for a long time, and we need to make sure it continues that way. If we're not doing our job then we're not making it easier for the linebackers to make plays, if we don't put pressure then the defensive backs have to guard their guys longer.
"We pride ourselves on being able to stop the run and that starts with our nose and our three-technique stuffing the middle and making plays. Our defense is run by the two guys inside. We've got a lot of talent inside, but we're young there so Wes and I need to lead them and make sure they stay focused."
For Kennard, it's a role he gladly accepts as a leader and also as a defensive end. He came to USC as the top rated D-end in the country out of Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista but was shuttled around early in his career to strongside linebacker and middle linebacker before finally returning to his more natural defensive end position prior to the 2011 season.
Not only has he grown more comfortable in his natural position, he also has been able to add the proper weight to his frame to handle the rigors of playing on the line.
"This is the first time in my career where I will be at the same position for two years in a row and I definitely feel more comfortable," Kennard said. "I'm at 260 pounds right now. Last year I didn't know I was going to be moving back to defensive line until late in the summer so I wasn't able to gain that much weight that quick. I was only between 245-250 pounds last season which is a little light for a defensive end. I had all last fall plus this offseason to naturally get to this weight and I feel stronger, faster and more comfortable at this size now."
To get prepared for the season, Kennard is among the Trojans who are staying on campus during the summer to take part in conditioning workouts and throwing sessions.
"We're getting in a lot of good work this summer," Kennard said. "I'm just constantly trying to get stronger and faster. It's not rocket science, I'm just focusing on the basics and trying to get my body right to play as many plays as the team needs me to play."
As a veteran player, Kennard knows that these summer sessions can have an important impact for a team that has set high goals for the coming season.
"Nobody's goals are bigger than the guys in that locker room," Kennard said. "We can have a little fun this summer but we also have to stay focused. I'm not really focused on any particular numbers or anything, I just want to help put my team in a position to be as successful as we think we can be. There couldn't be a better time for it with this being my senior year."