This is where it all begins and it appears that the 2001 Trojans should be off to a great start. While many prognosticators are labeling the Defensive Line a liability, it is the coaches' opinions that we are returning our most talented players from last year's squad.
Lonnie Ford was among the walking wounded through the first part of the 2000 campaign and SC's Defensive Ends struggled because of his absence. He is back and has the opportunity to become legendary at his position. He is strong, fast and tenacious. Add to that his playing experience and nose for the quarterback and SC has itself an excellent end. On the other side of the line, at least for now, is Omar Nazel and Bobby DeMars. Both men had superb springs. Nazel has been compared to Jevon Kearse, because of his outrageous wingspan and pure athleticism, by former Head Coach Paul Hackett and it is believed he should shine in 2001. USC's current DL Coach, Ed Orgeron is thrilled with the current players at End, but he can hardly contain himself when he talks about the kids that are joining the team. When creating the label in the ‘70's of the Wild Bunch for that great defense, one could look at the four horsemen, of Shaun Cody, Daniel Pryor, Ray Tago and Jason Wardlow, who will enroll this fall and quickly attach that moniker to them as well. Cody comes in as the most heralded defensive player in the nation. Pryor brings his own reputation, along with college level playing experience, but it is Tago and Wardlow that might surprise. At present the goal is to redshirt these last two, but their play might command time immediately. Wardlow has been seen at workouts and looks physically ready. He brings a nastiness to his game that SC is salivating for. And Tago is quite simply a specimen. Amazingly USC is deep enough at this position to let these kids mature before asking anything of them. Coach Orgeron has said that he has not seen this level of talent since the time he spent with Miami and their National Championship run.
The interior of the Defensive Line is another source of wealth for the Trojans. Ryan Nielsen, who will be used at both the DE and DT position, returns and was considered to be the best Dlineman SC had in 2000. Next to him is Bernard Riley, a player that reminds many of Trojan great, Darrell Russell. Riley now has three years of playing experience and has added to his already massive frame. What makes Bernard fantastic is that he is a team leader. This kid walks the walk and is known for bringing his "A" game, every game. One of the criticisms of the 2000 squad was the work ethic of Ennis Davis. Many felt that either due to his injury in 1999, or just his lack of desire, that he grossly underachieved. Couple this with the absence of Ford and it is no wonder that teams were able to run on SC at times. Both Orgeron and Carroll have promised that the level of play from this year's line will see dramatic improvement. Again, for the interior of the line, SC brought in an exciting player in Mike Patterson, a kid Carroll wooed himself. Another player that has people talking is "BKU," Big Kenechi Udeze. Criticized in high school for his weight, Kenechi dropped nearly sixty pounds and picked up his speed as well as strength. He came into SC ready to play and has worked his way into the rotation. Kenechi will see major minutes this year and as a redshirt freshmen, SC is going to enjoy having him around for four full seasons as well as big Malcolm Woolridge. SC's line is going to have to toughen up against the run, but it is expected that this will be the case and improved play will be the call of the day.