USC Football's 4 Biggest Weaknesses Heading into This Season
Despite all the hype surrounding the Trojans and their upcoming season, they find themselves with a number of significant weaknesses—including defensive line, left tackle, and depth at multiple positions.
While I, like many people, fully expect the Trojans to have a great 2012-2013 season, the team will need to address these weaknesses if they hope to be holding the crystal football at the end of the year.
Let's take a look at USC's biggest weaknesses heading into this season.
Defensive Line Youth
If you were to ask me what the Trojans' biggest weakness was a couple of weeks ago, I would've told you running back. However, the news that thousand-yard-rusher Silas Redd has transferred to Southern Cal fixes the team's issues in the backfield.
Now, the defensive line has become USC's most glaring weakness after losing three starters from last season—Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou. To add insult to injury—no pun intended—senior defensive end Devon Kennard suffered a potentially season-ending injury to his pectoral muscle while lifting weights just a few weeks ago.
The injury to Kennard dwindles an already thin and inexperienced defensive line. Without the senior in the starting lineup, senior end Wes Horton (pictured above) and sophomore tackle George Uko will be the only defensive lineman with any collegiate starts under their belts.
Indications from the first week of fall camp point to sophomore J.R. Tavai (h/t: CBS Sport's Chris Huston) serving as the main replacement for Kennard. Tavai played some defensive end as well as tackle last season—playing in seven games and recording four tackles.
Another key issue the Trojans face heading into this season is answering the question: who will replace Matt Kalil?
Kalil was drafted No. 4 overall in April's NFL Draft—the lone starting offensive lineman to leave USC.
The Trojan's coaching staff has seemingly elected to go with sophomore Aundrey Walker at left tackle, rather than junior Kevin Graf. Walker played sparingly on special teams last season. While Graf spent the entire season at right tackle.
Walker was given the starting job at left tackle by Kiffin during spring practice, but the 6'6'', 300 pound sophomore has been sidelined by multiple injuries—the most recent coming on Sunday. Redshirt sophomore Nathan Guertler has taken most of the first-team reps in place of Walker, with true freshman Max Tuerk also getting some snaps in.
Whoever the starter at left tackle is for the Trojan's season opener against Hawaii on September 1, they will have some big shoes to fill and will be under an elevated amount of pressure.
Last season, the Trojan's linebacker corp consisted of three freshman, including true freshman Lamar Dawson at middle linebacker. Needless to say, Dawson is returning as is Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
With three returning starters, you wouldn't imagine linebacker to be a weakness for the Trojans. However, looking past the trio of Dawson, Bailey and Pullard, USC is extremely thin—especially after moving Tre Madden to running back.
All three of the aforementioned freshmen's backups last season—Chris Galippo, Shane Horton and Ross Cumming—were seniors, leaving the Trojans with very inexperienced backups.
The already-thin depth was further hurt with the injury to Dawson. Pullard was forced to take reps at middle linebacker and redshirted freshman Anthony Sarao replaced Pullard on the weak side.
Dawson should be ready for the start of the season, but the Trojans will be thin at linebacker with or without the sophomore.
The defensive secondary was the biggest weakness of the squad all season long last year. They gave up an average of 263 yards per game through the air—bad enough for 102nd in the country.
While USC is stacked in the defensive backfield, it's their production, rather than depth, that concerns me. Like the linebacker group, the Trojans are losing zero starters from last year in the defensive backfield—which is good, right?
This is the same group that gave up over 260 yards per game last season, but they can only get better, right? Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, the Trojans have plenty of bodies to cycle through back there if one man isn't producing the way he should.
T.J. McDonald is the undoubted leader of this defense and should have another stellar season as he's entering the year as one of the best safeties in college football.
Playing opposite of him will be Jawanza Starling who will look to improve upon his decent season as a first-year starter. Starling will likely split time with Demetrius Wright who, according to Pedro Moura of ESPN, was mentioned by Kiffin as having the best camp of any non-starter thus far
Nickell Robey will be the Trojan's No. 1 cornerback for the third consecutive year and should have little trouble locking down the opposing team's No. 1 receiver week in and week out.
The big question mark is on the opposite side of the field, where Isiah Wiley started most of the games last season. Wiley has been battling injuries this offseason which has opened up first-team snaps for others.
One unheralded player who could see limited playing time is walk-on cornerback William Tober. The San Clemente-native had a 76-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Trojan's first scrimmage of fall camp. The walk-on won't see a lot of playing time, but could get some on a limited basis, as the coaching staff has expressed some confidence in Tober.
No matter who the starter is opposite of Robey, the entire unit must improve upon their underwhelming play last season if the Trojans hope to live up to all the hype.