USC Football Recruiting: Where Are the Interior Defensive Linemen in 2014 Class?

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USC Football Recruiting: Where Are the Interior Defensive Linemen in 2014 Class?
Tashon Smallwood (photo from 247sports.com)

When USC's 2013 recruiting class folded by the time national signing day came around, it was widely determined that of those verbals who reneged, the defensive line suffered the most.

This was largely due to a late-season flip by massive defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, whose defection was made all the more unpalatable by his final destination: USC's rival, Notre Dame.

In addition, defensive linemen Torrodney Prevot, Jason Hatcher and Kylie Fitts all joined Vanderdoes as former Trojan verbal commitments who found homes elsewhere when it came time to sign their letters of intent.

When it was all done, only highly touted tackle Kenny Bigelow came West to play for the men of Troy—a scant contribution when it came to replenishing this unit for the Trojans.

What's worse is that the lack of defensive linemen signed this year comes on the heels of the last two years' dearth of recruits for this unit, as a total of just three players inked their names to come play for the Cardinal and Gold.

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Of course, it should be noted that in the 3-4 defensive scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (which often takes on the look of a 5-2 alignment), a higher premium is placed on mobile linemen who can also play off the edges.

Still, interior linemen are necessary in this and any other successful defense and as such, there could be trouble on the horizon for USC.

In a year when there are limited high school standouts on the inside, USC is finding few to extend offers to.

As of this writing, only three defensive tackles—as listed by Scout.com—have been offered scholarships by USC.

Of those three, only Tashon Smallwood, listed as Scout.com's 11th-best prospect at his position, has given USC his verbal pledge to play for the Trojans.

However, this is not to say that USC has been inactive recruiting defensive linemen.

Unit coach Ed Orgeron, who is also USC's recruiting coordinator, has extended offers to 13 players listed as "defensive ends" according to Scout.com.

And within that group, five of those players are 270 or more pounds, which means they could likely slide inside to play either a nose or tackle position.

Still, it must be assumed that USC will likely strike out with the vast majority of these big linemen they have offered.

All of which means that USC is left with a 2013 roster that has a total of five defensive tackles, two of whom (George Uko and J.R. Tavai) are juniors.

Considering the necessity of rotating fresh bodies during a game, things could get very dicey for USC going forward this year and especially beyond.

Because of this, it is imperative that the Trojans re-stock this unit for the 2014 class. But in a year that is light on premium interior defensive linemen, that might be easier said than done.

Only time will tell if USC can find the caliber of interior players needed to make Pendergast's defense work.

But if the early outlook of 2014 is any indication of what this high school class has to offer for this position, it might be time for fans of the program to be at least a little bit concerned.

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