USC Football: What Trojans Coaching Staff Needs to See from Defense in Fall Camp
NFL Photos/Getty Images
As USC enters its critical fall camp practice session, all eyes will be on new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 scheme.
Pendergast will be implementing a new defense to replace the 4-3 alignment favored by former coordinator Monte Kiffin, in an effort to keep up with the high-octane offenses found throughout the Pac-12.
For Trojan coaches on that side of the ball, there will be individual player battles to keep an eye as well as the unit responsibilities as the defense transitions to an attacking scheme that they hope will bottle up the variety of powerful offenses featured in the conference.
This slideshow will look at some of the questions that will need to be answered before the Trojans open the season at Hawaii on Thursday, Aug. 29th.
Can the Trojans regain their swagger on the defensive side of the ball?
Here is what the coaches will be looking at to answer that question...
Note: This list is ordered by importance to the overall success of the team in terms of answering those questions that are creating the most concern.
Will the Front Seven Live Up to the Hype?
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
When looking at the Trojans defense, there is much to like, and that is especially true of USC's front seven players.
Led by dominating defensive end Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, USC looks poised to make life miserable for opposing offenses in 2013.
Mix in defensive tackle George Uko, nose tackle Antwaun Woods and outside linebacker Devon Kennard, who is returning after missing 2012 with an injury, and it is easy to see why Trojan nation is so excited about this group.
However, the talent doesn't end there as weak-side linebacker Hayes Pullard is a stud in his own right, and he will be joined by the winner of the Lamar Dawson-Anthony Sarao battle for the right to start at middle linebacker.
Collectively, this unit is as solid as they come on paper.
Now it's time to see if they will produce on the field of play.
Who Wins the Middle Linebacker Starting Gig?
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Other than the starting quarterback battle, the most interesting starting position tussle still up in the air is the contest between Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao at middle linebacker.
Dawson—the starter for the last two years—and Sarao both came into the spring and summer workouts in the best shape of their lives, and they were extremely productive in both sessions.
However this is settled, USC has a pair of very solid middle 'backers, and regardless of who is tabbed as the starter, both will play a lot in 2013.
Who Are the Safeties?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Another interesting unit battle the coaches will keep an eye on is the safeties, where both the free and strong safety positions are up for grabs.
Coming out of the spring practice session, Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III were listed as co-starters at the free safety position and Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens were tabbed as co-starters at strong safety according to the depth chart.
However, neither Gerald Bowman (free safety) nor Dion Bailey (strong safety) played during the spring due to injuries, so in reality, both spots are up in the air.
Having said that, it would be a mild shock if Bailey wasn't the starter for his position as he looked very good in the summer.
Still, these are two positions that will be settled in the fall and thus will demand the attention of the coaches to be sure.
Will the Cornerbacks Finally Show Some Improvement?
Harry How/Getty Images
Okay, so we know that the front seven has enormous talent and the safeties have the potential to be very good in their own right, but what about the cornerbacks?
Most certainly the weakest link of the defense, the cornerbacks have not looked good so far in the 2013 practice sessions.
Of course, to be fair, there aren't many defensive backs who would fare well against the likes of Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor—possibly the best receiving tandem in the nation.
Still, this unit has not done much to warrant any confidence, and it remains to be seen if anyone steps up to claim the starting corner positions through good play.
To that end, Kevon Seymour is the likely starter on the right side, while Anthony Brown will try to separate himself from Torin Harris as the left-side starter.
This is a unit that will demand much of the coaches' attention in the fall.
Overall, Is the 5-2 Defense the Answer?
George Frey/Getty Images
As mentioned in the opening slide, USC will be installing a completely new defensive scheme in 2013.
And although the Trojans have looked very impressive so far in the 5-2, it should be understood that this is only practice and that things can look very different when they play for keeps.
Fortunately for USC, the team has a defensive coordinator in Clancy Pendergast who is a proven commodity and has taken less talented teams to greater heights.
Still, this is not a perfect defense personnel-wise, and it remains to be seen if the flaws in the starting 11 can be covered by excellence elsewhere.
Until that question is answered, the coaches will be keeping a very close eye on the entire defense.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Ultimately, USC's fortunes will ride on the development of the quarterbacks, the offensive line and, perhaps as important as any, the defense.
And in terms of the defense, most of the concerns ride on how quickly—if at all—the secondary finds its groove.
If that unit can rise to the occasion, Clancy Pendergast's boys can buy time for the offense to get acclimated, but if not, this could be a very long year for the Cardinal and Gold.
To get the defense right, the coaching staff on that side of the ball will be keeping their eye on who is performing and how they can provide depth for adequate rotations.
And at the end of the day—or practice sessions—answering those questions is what both they and the fans will want to see entering the 2013 football season.