USC Football: The Defense, Part One

Paul PeszkoSenior Writer IAugust 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 4:  Christian Tupou of the USC Trojans rushes against the Oregon Ducks on October 4, 2008 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  USC won 44-10.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

The Trojans lost three of their four starting defensive linemen from last season's squad.  All three are now in the NFL.  That is not an easy trio to replace, despite the fact that USC is Reload U.

However, reload they have With junior Everson Griffen. sophomore Armond Armstead and senior Averell Spicer joining the only returning full-time starter junior Christian Tupou.  I say full-time starter because Griffen had five starts last season and Spicer had three before landing in Pete Carroll's dog house for a couple of costly personal fouls in the Oregon State game.

So, it is not as though that defensive line is completely raw and untried.  In fact, Tupou, the only regular starter from last season, will have his hands full fending off sophomore Jurrell Casey to retain his starting spot.

While Griffen appears at this point to be the only mainstay, look for sophomore Malik Jackson and redshirt freshman Nick Perry to see a lot of playing time at the defensive end positions.  You can also count on both of them to challenge Armstead for that other starting spot.

In addition, the Trojans have their own version of "Regrigerator" Perry, Hebron "Loni" Fangupo, a junior college transfer who has just joined the team. 

The wide bodied, 320-pound lineman has shown tremendous power and surprising agility when he bursts into the backfield.  He promises to be a huge load for opposing offenses and should have an immediate impact this fall.

Incoming freshman James Boyd and Devon Kennard have some work to do as far as acquiring the skill set needed for Division One defense.  But each has the talent and ability to make their mark with the Trojans.

Redshirt junior Derek Simmons had moved over to the offensive line before moving back to the defensive line.  Look for him to challenge Spicer and Fangupo for playing time at the tackle spot.  Both redshirt freshman Wes Horton and junior DaJohn Harris have shown promise and should continue to battle their way up the depth chart.

Many are mistaken when they say the Trojans are replacing their three NFL draft picks with basically untried and unproven players.  That is simply not the case as I have pointed out. The first two spots on the depth chart at each of the four defensive line spots are manned by experienced players albeit not regular starters.

The coaching staff has already commented that this year's defensive line looks quicker than last year's.  But even though they are quicker and have experience both as starters and backups, they are missing one very important quality.

The three players that moved onto the NFL had a lot of savvy.  They had a sense of down and distance probability.  They knew the tendencies of certain teams and players and could sense what was most likely to happen in a given situation.

These players don't quite have that savvy yet.  That is why the most important personnel acquisition the Trojans have made this season is not in pads.  He is on the sideline.  Jethro Franklin has returned from the NFL for his second tour of duty with the Trojans. 

If anyone can get these lineman up to speed fast and teach them the skills necessary to play at a very high level it is Coach Franklin.  And it seems to be taking hold.

Normally in training camps, the defensive line is ahead of their offensive counterparts at the very beginning.  However, since the Trojan offensive line is returning all of their starters, they were ahead of the defense for the first few days.

But by the fourth day of camp, the defensive line had caught up and even forged ahead of what might be the best offensive line in college football.  They maintained their dominance on the next day and again held their own in both the morning and afternoon practices today.  That is certainly a welcome sign for Trojan fans.

In my next report on the Trojan defense, I will focus on the linebacking corps and what to expect this season.