The math is simple. Subtract Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard, J.R. Tavai, Josh Shaw and Gerald Bowman from a USC defense that struggled for three entire games and two more finishes a year ago and there's no way the Trojans improve next fall. That's what some of the pundits have already decreed. No way it happens.
Coordinator Justin Wilcox begs to differ. There is a way, he says, and it's a simple calculation. "Every single guy on defense has to improve," he says, "fundamentally, technically and scheme wise."
And now that they're in Year 2 of this defense, "they should be able to react quicker, they already are. It's not even close," Wilcox says.
"We have to do it as a team," Steve Sarkisian says. And they have to do it now. Like working hard to be able to play man in the secondary and come up and shut people down.
Which is why they're looking at having safeties who are cover guys so against the four-wide teams, they can still defend them man-to-man. And USC does want to play man. "I'd like to be more aggressive," Sark says. "But we've got to work at it."
One example: corner Kevon Seymour. "He's really doing well," Sark said. "I haven't seen one ball completed in front of him."
Wilcox thinks this defense is already "reacting much better . . . to get the most out of your ability, you have to be confident and play fast. It's natural. You're a year older. Everybody understands the game better."
"I know I'm not nearly as tight out there now," D-lineman Delvon Simmons says. Knowing what to do matters.
Make the coaches a part of this, Wilcox says. The year of experience allows them to "add things, to fit them to our personnel . . . and then we'll get the freshmen in here." And if the play of freshman Cameron Smith is any example, there's help on the way.
Smith had a big interception and return, earning Wilcox' praise. "Cameron has done an excellent job," he said, "and he's made more than that play."
Some good work all through the linebacker corps. Lamar Dawson has been something of a revelation to this coaching staff after rehabbing last fall from knee surgery. "His range is excellent," Wilcox said of Lamar's sideline-to-sideline ability to run plays down. "And when he gets his hands on a player, he gets them on the ground . . . He's a sharp kid. He picks things up quick."
Then there's Quinton Powell, who with Michael Hutchings, each got well-timed sacks on a blitz with Powell coming off Su'a Cravens. "I know what I'm doing now," Powell said. "The past two years I really didn't. But I've studied our defense and have it figured out."
There's a difference now, Powell says, and it's more than just his seriousness about studying his playbook, or even his weight that's crept up to 207 pounds. The coaches are using him to play to his strengths now, he said.
"Rushing the passer, guarding the No. 2 receiver and getting picks," Powell says of what he likes about this defense letting him do. "I'm cool with this."
Lots of mixing and matching in the secondary and the wide receivers corps as the coaches give guys plenty of chances to show what they can do . . . NFL top prospect Williams was on the field for his second straight practice on his return for Wednesday's Pro Day but on leaving, BLW lauhed at how he didn't have to stop for interviews on the day the defense talked . . . New conditioning coach Kenechi Udeze finished up after practice running through the end zone with D-linemen Claude Pelon and Joey Augello . . . USC practices a second time at the Coliseum this week on Saturday, which will also be closed to the public and will start at 10:30 . . . USC will take off next week for spring break and will return to practice Tuesday, March 24, at Cromwell Field . . . Asked once again if there had been any further developments with regard to Bryce Dixon and his "student conduct" issue, Sark said there had not been. "No," he said simply, "I will have no further comment."CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Thursday's workout at THURSDAY SPRING DAY 5 GHOST NOTES.
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