Fall preview: defensive line

Leading up to fall camp, Scout's SCPlaybook will take a look at each position group for the Trojans... Next up, the defensive line.

Defensive line:
Big Leonard Williams.

Big Leonard Williams.

Is the hype over the ability of Leonard Williams too much? Absolutely not.

The 2014 preseason All-American had a dominant 2013 – and he played at far less than 100 percent health through the entire season, with a partially torn labrum in his shoulder.

In what will most likely be his final season in Cardinal and Gold, look for the junior lineman to have the season of his career. And keep in mind, that’s saying he’s going to be more than productive.

He finished second on the team in 2013 in tackles (Yes, second, as a defensive lineman) with 74 and a team-high 13.5 tackles for a loss.

One far-too-early NFL prognostication has Williams taken as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

“We have a chance to be special here,” said USC coach Steve Sarkisian. “But the line’s development will be critical.”

The 2014 Trojans will be coached by their third defensive coordinator in three seasons with Justin Wilcox taking over; they will be learning yet another defensive scheme under Wilcox. It will be the Trojans first season under Chris defensive line coach Wilson after being coached by Ed Orgeron.

Key Losses: George Uko (NFL)
Key Returners: Leonard Williams (Jr.), Antwaun Woods (RS Jr.)
Returners: Cody Temple (RS Jr.), Greg Townsend Jr. (RS Jr.), Charles Burks (RS Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Delvon Simmons (Jr.), Claude Pelon (Jr.)
Out: Kenny Bigelow (RS Fr.)

2013 Review: Already mentioned, 2013 was the year of Leonard Williams in former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 scheme.

Williams played in 13 games for the Trojans, missing the win at California due to a shoulder injury suffered the week before at Oregon State.

Keep in mind, Williams played all of 2013 with a tear in his labrum – apparently suffered during fall camp.

But it wasn’t just Williams who helped to form one of the most aggressive front-sevens in college football a season ago.

Redshirt sophomore Antwaun Woods had a coming out party of sorts at nose tackle. Woods presence grew on the line as the season wore on and by the end, he was a force to reckon with. He finished the season with 19 tackles while starting half the games for the Trojans.

George Uko rounded out the front three for USC in 2013. Uko, a junior, opted to forego his final season of eligibility as a Trojan to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, where he went undrafted.

Uko was a formidable presence throughout the season on the line, making 36 tackles while leading the squad in sacks with five.

2014 Outlook: The Trojans return two of their big three linemen from a season ago in 2014, including Williams and Woods.

Woods, who saw steady improvement in 2013, appears poised for a breakout season in 2014. The redshirt junior is not only a much more confident speaker about his role on the defensive line, his actions on the field match his words.

To replace Uko, the Trojans now have an eligible Delvon Simmons, who transferred a year ago from Texas Tech and Claude Pelon who transferred this spring from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College.

Simmons has plenty of meaningful college experience after starting 13 games as a sophomore for the Red Raiders. He finished the 2012 in Lubbock with 27 tackles, including 6 for a loss.

Simmons and Pelon are listed as co-starters at defensive tackle on Sarkisian’s preseason depth chart.

As has become the norm in most position groups for the Trojans, depth could become a concern for the defensive line if the group picks up any sort of injury bug.

Already lost for the season is redshirt freshman, and former five-star recruit, Kenny Bigelow. Bigelow will be sidelined throughout the season recovering from an ACL tear suffered during summer player-run practices.

While the Trojans also have upperclassmen Cody Temple, Greg Townsend Jr., and Charles Burks on their roster heading into fall camp, none of the three have proven an ability to stay healthy throughout the duration of a season.

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