The Starters: Nick Perry (Jr., 6-3, 250), Wes Horton (Jr., 6-5, 265)
The Backup: Kevin Greene (So., 6-4, 260)
The X-Factor: Devon Kennard (Jr., 6-3, 250)
The Number: 4; Perry and Horton each had four sacks last season, tied for the lead among returning players.
The Position: Defensive Tackle
The Starters: Christian Tupou (Sr., 6-2, 300), George Uko (Fr., 6-3, 295)
The Backup: DaJohn Harris (Sr., 6-4, 310)
The X-Factor: Armond Armstead (Sr., 6-5, 290)
The Number: 210; In its five losses, USC allowed an average of 210 yards rushing per game.
The Storyline: All about the O.
For all the attention paid to the recruiting prowess and character traits of Ed Orgeron, it sometimes gets lost how good he is at coaching up the defensive line. His track record at Miami and USC is filled with All-Americans and first-round draft picks. However, he was unable to produce an immediate turnaround in his first year back with the Trojans, even with All-Pac-10 first-team tackle Jurrell Casey in the mix.
But that should change immediately, as Orgeron should have plenty of talent, as well as a four-man rotation available at both end and tackle, at his disposal. Free of the nagging injuries that limited them last season, Perry and Horton were dominant in the spring, with the Michigan native looking like an elite NFL prospect. Uko was just as impressive, while Tupou's return from a torn ACL offers a veteran presence and unending motor on the inside.
Most importantly, Orgeron will be able to mix and match his line to deal with the multiple looks the Pac-12 will throw at USC on a weekly basis. Against the spread, Orgeron can deploy the speed of Perry and Kennard on the edge. More physical opponents like Stanford will see Armstead at end with his size.
Optimism abounds that Armstead will be available after missing the spring with an undisclosed illness. His return, along with having Kennard on the line after his experiment at middle linebacker, adds that extra dimension that Orgeron should be able to exploit, resulting in a trickle-down effect across the rest of the defense.
The Position: Linebacker
The Starter: Chris Galippo (Sr., 6-2, 250)
The Contenders: Marquis Simmons (So., 6-1, 215) or Dion Bailey (Fr., 6-0, 200), Hayes Pullard (Fr., 6-0, 225) or Shane Horton (Sr., 6-1, 200)
The Newcomers: Lamar Dawson (Fr., 6-2, 235), Tre Madden (Fr., 6-0, 220), Anthony Sarao (Fr., 6-0, 210)
The Number: 23.5 percent; With Kennard moving to defensive end and Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan lost to graduation, the Trojans must replace 207 tackles made by its linebackers last season, 23.5 percent of the team's total stops.
The Storyline: Known Unknowns. They played better in the spring, for what it's worth. But with Galippo and Horton sidelined by injuries, taking anything away from the linebackers might be a fruitless exercise.
What is clear is that USC has available numbers, a far cry from last year when four players took all the reps. Even with Kennard no longer in the middle, Simmons and Pullard should be able to contribute. Behind them is a touted recruiting class, with Lamar Dawson cleared ticketed for big things, as demonstrated by the coaches presenting him with the famed No. 55 jersey.
But the real barometer for improved play will rest with Galippo, who by his own admission hasn't yet lived up to expectations, his own or those that came with the accolades placed on him by recruiting experts. Now entrenched at his natural position, Galippo has to lead the way with more takeaways and more game-changing plays. Lane Kiffin always harps on it, but a handful of well-timed stops would have pushed an eight-win team to 11. Galippo will have to shepherd along a young group to ensure this time around the Trojans get the necessary production.
The Position: Cornerback
The Starter: Nickell Robey (So., 5-8, 165)
The Contenders: Tony Burnett (Jr., 6-1, 195), Anthony Brown (Fr., 5-9, 185) or Torin Harris (So., 6-0, 180)
The Newcomers: Ryan Henderson (Fr., 5-10, 170), Isiah Wiley (Jr., 6-1, 185) The Number: 3; USC had just three career starts (all by Shareece Wright) in its starting defensive backfield last season. Robey and McDonald combined take 25 starts into this year.
The Position: Safety
The Starter: T.J. McDonald (Jr., 6-3, 205)
The Contenders: Marshall Jones (Sr., 5-11, 180), Demetrius Wright (So., 6-1, 195), Jawanza Starling (Jr., 6-1, 195) or Drew McAllister (Jr., 6-1, 205)
The Number: 10; The Trojans surrendered 10 touchdown passes of 30 yards or longer in 2010.
The Storyline: Who's No. 2? In Robey and McDonald, the Trojans have proven two defensive backs that could contend for postseason honors. Unfortunately, USC needs four players on the back end, and more often than not five given the proliferation of spread offenses and multiple receiver looks it faces.
That explains the deployment of Bailey as a kind of linebacker/safety hybrid, but Monte Kiffin must still settle who will line up opposite McDonald and Robey. Burnett looks to have the inside track as the second corner, after performing well late last season after being thrown into the lineup because of injury and a strong spring. Still, he will have to hold off several challengers in camp, including the supremely athletic Henderson, who stood out during summer voluntary workouts.
At strong safety, there is no obvious answer. Looking for that center fielder capable of defending the deep middle and coming up with interceptions, Starling started nine games last season but struggled before suffering a hamstring injury. Wright is the most athletic of the four contenders, but seems best suited for the attacking role McDonald occupies. Jones is steady, but has a history of neck injuries, leaving McAllister as the dark horse candidate.
Expect coaches to experiment at the spot throughout the fall, but who ultimately starts there is anyone's guess.