Spring Review: Defensive Line

A dominant season from defensive end Nick Perry would go a long way in reversing both the sagging pass rush and beleaguered secondary.

Post-Spring Depth Chart
Defensive End
1. Wes Horton
2. Kevin Greene

Nose Tackle
1. Christian Tupou
2. DaJohn Harris

Defensive Tackle
1. George Uko
2. Armond Armstead

Defensive End
1. Nick Perry
2. Eric Childs

Projected Post-Fall Camp Depth Chart
Defensive End
1. Armond Armstead
2. Kevin Greene

Nose Tackle
1. Christian Tupou
2. DaJohn Harris

Defensive Tackle
1. George Uko
2. DaJohn Harris

Defensive End
1. Nick Perry
2. Wes Horton

Three Questions Answered in the Spring
1. Six is enough. Hopefully.
A three-man rotation at defensive end. A three-man rotation at defensive tackle. That's what USC is gambling on to fix its run defense and pass rush this season.

It should be enough, even against Oregon's high-powered no-huddle attack. If everyone stays healthy.

That's the risk the Trojans face. Considering Wes Horton and Nick Perry dealt with back and ankle injuries that limited their effectiveness last season and Armond Armstead didn't participate in the spring because of an unknown medical condition, it's a major gamble. Christian Tupou is coming off a major knee injury last year.

Their combined talents and experience create a position group that is the best on the team, perhaps the best in the conference. Armstead has a prototypical NFL body. Tupou is bigger and stronger to match his relentless motor. Harris has put it together under assistant coach Ed Orgeron. Uko was one of the standouts of spring practice.

That's a defensive line playing on Sundays, not Saturdays. That's the kind of line that plowed through the opposition to win Rose Bowls and Pac-10 titles in the last decade.

USC's line can certainly play like that. A little health, and luck, along the way would be nice.

2. Nick Perry is poised for a monster season.
Lane Kiffin hasn't exactly been effusive in handing out praise since taking over as USC coach, so when he labeled Perry one of the top dozen athletes in the world with his combination of size and speed, it really stood out.

Not so much the numbers, as everyone around the program has always known the redshirt junior from Detroit to be a dynamo, but for what Perry could mean to the Trojans. Here is an elite pass rusher capable of double-digit sacks, the kind of difference maker that can change a game, then head off to the NFL early.

Perhaps the best comparison might be Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, exploding onto the national scene last season with 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks before being taken No. 13 overall by the Detroit Lions.

But Perry isn't the unknown commodity Fairley was headed into the Tigers' BCS title run. He led the Trojans with eight sacks as a freshman, earning numerous national honors. Playing on one leg after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the preseason in 2010, Perry still had 7.5 tackles for loss with four sacks. He closed on a tear, with 2.5 tackles for loss, two deflections and a forced fumble he recovered against Notre Dame and UCLA as Perry finally looked healthy.

With Perry and Horton each back to 100 percent, USC should have a ferocious pass rush, crucial in a conference defined by elite quarterbacks like Andrew Luck and Darron Thomas.

It's not coincidental that the Trojans' beleaguered pass defense came in a year where the team ranked sixth in the conference in sacks. A breakout effort from Perry would go a long way in reversing both.

3. Ed Orgeron got his numbers back up. Now it's time to coach them up.
Big voice. Big presence. Coach O does everything bigger than live, especially recruiting. He churned out a remarkable crop of linemen in his first stint at USC, signing the most touted players in the nation with a few hidden gems mixed in. They would go on to become the cornerstones of Pete Carroll's remarkable turnaround, from Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson to Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis.

Even Orgeron's biggest miss, Manny Wright, delivered the key sack of California quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the goal line en route to an undefeated season and undisputed title in 2004.

Given that track record, it's not hard to imagine what Orgeron will be able to do with the six incoming linemen from the Class of 2012. There are two pure edge rushers in Greg Townsend Jr. and DeVante Wilson, two massive tackles in J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods and two more that could fit in anywhere along the line in Steve Dillon and Christian Heyward.

Ideally all six redshirt this season, allowing them to learn from Orgeron and the veterans ahead of them and continue to develop physically. The most immediate need would be at end, especially if Armstead isn't cleared for some reason.

With Harris and Tupou in their senior seasons, however, there will be an opening at nose tackle next year. Watching Orgeron work with the new tackles will be a compelling look into the future of the program.


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