In the months since Pete Carroll was named head coach at USC there has been a lot of discussion about what kind of coach he will be, how he will delegate, what kind of personality he will bring to the team, etc. Many have looked to his past head coaching experience in the NFL and questioned if was too laid back or too much of a players coach but the one thing we have never heard anybody question is the mans ability to coach defensive football. His reputation is of a coach who will be aggressive, who places a premium on stopping the run in the interior of the defense, who makes terrific game day adjustments and who will bring blitzes at any time, from any spot on the field. To his delight Carroll has a solid line and secondary units to begin his USC coaching career and he has made some recent adjustment to the linebacker rotation that reflect his desire to be fast, hard hitting and to get his 11 best football players on the field.
Lonnie Ford, Ryan Nielsen and Bernard Riley form the core of what could be the key to the defensive play this year. Ford has put together an off season of workouts that have coaches and teammates predicting big things from this talented former tight end and Nielsen could be the most fundamental player of the group. Ryan has the size to play tackle with the speed to play end and it is not out of the question that he could compete for all conference honors. Riley has the entire package of strength and speed and this should be the year that he puts it all together and takes the next step toward what will be a huge senior season and eventual NFL career. Omar Nazel will start at the other end spot but will face a challenge for playing time from Nate Goodson and freshman Shaun Cody.
Most so called experts assume that linebacker will be a question mark with the loss of all three starters but this group will have a completely different look and responsibilities in this defense. Carroll wants quickness in his linebackers and there has been discussions of moves involving Frank Strong and Matt Grootegoed from the secondary to the outside linebacker spots. Chris Prosser and John Cousins bring speed and pursuit ability but the presence of Strong and Grootegoed would bring a couple big hitters and finally allows Trojan fans to see Groots on the field. Aaron Graham is established as the starter in the middle with Lee Webb and Mike Pollard seeing time as well.
In the secondary, there is a glut of talent at the corner spot with four players who all bring experience and talent and who could all serve as starters. A major key this season will be the ability of the players to turn and look for the football when it is in the air as this coverage style was not encouraged in recent years and the corners now are anxious to show what they can do. Chris Cash and Darrell Rideaux will fight at one spot with Cash putting together a solid performance at the end of last season that carried through spring ball but Rideaux could benefit as much as anybody by turning his head as Darrell has excellent speed and technique. Antuan Simmons and Kris Richard offer another talented duo on the other side and the return of Simmons to the team could be one of the best stories in college football this season. At this point Kevin Arbet has been moved back to free safety but it is possible that Simmons could see action at that spot as well. Troy Polamalu was the best player on the field during spring ball and he will be the anchor at strong safety. Frank Strong was originally the starter at free safety but will likely end up at linebacker which leaves the position open for DeShaun Hill, Arbet or Jason Leach. Leach is a head hunter who impressed Carroll in spring ball and he could be a major surprise this season.