With all the excitement about USC's incoming freshmen, especially the pack of big, impressive and athletic defensive linemen set to arrive this summer, it's a lean crew of four healthy scholarship returnees carrying things this spring.
Fifth-year nose tackle Cody Temple is happy to be right in the middle of all this. In some ways, for the first time since he left Bakersfield in 2011.
But since that moment, through a first year when he redshirted as a center and then the next three when if it wasn't for ankle surgery, foot problems and other health issues, we might not have noticed Cody at all, except for the long mane of blonde hair flowing from his helmet.
In the three years since his arrival, Cody has moved to the defensive side of the ball. And waited his chance.
That's a chance that is coming this spring, with the sidelining of returning starter Antwaun Woods with an elbow injury, Kenny Bigelow with knee surgery rehab and Greg Townsend Jr., rehabbing from foot problems of his own.
"I'm getting there," the 6-foot-2, trimmed-down-to-under-300 pounds Temple says quietly. But when he talks about what exactly he means by that, the answer isn't about making plays or showing what he can do, it's simply this one word.
"Conditioning," he says.
For the first time in a career that has seen him rarely healthy in the last three spring practices, he's ready to go, ready to use that explosiveness that had him a 57-foot-plus shot putter and 170-foot discus thrower in high school.
"Going from offseason to getting ready to play in the spring," he says is the big difference now. For the first time, he's getting to do just that.
Not that Cody hasn't hit the field. He's played in 20 games over two seasons including all 13 last fall as a backup at nose tackle with 10 tackles and a couple of sacks including one in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska.
But this time is different. Before, it was could he make it through practice -- or to practice. Now he talks about having a different focus. It's all about technique and mastering the little things.
Sounding for all the world like a golf pro breaking down his swing, Cody will tell you now where his "focus" is as he breaks down his stance and release and use of his hands and initial punch keeping his hips low and getting the leverage that can help him handle an offensive lineman that he can get under.
"Don't stand and raise up," D-line coach Chis Wilson reminds him. "You want to punch and shoot out at the same time," Cody says.
He showed that right away Saturday when USC went to an early three-level gauntlet drill that had the offense jumping on the defense initially before Cody shed his blocker to become the first D-lineman to make a tackle for a loss. It's something he's been doing much more of this spring.
It's not so much the defense, Cody says. "That's pretty much the same, honestly . . . there are some new ways of teaching it." And a new urgency.
The question Cody and his first-team D-line mates Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons have to answer right now is the obvious: How does this team replace Leonard Williams and can it possibly improve its play this year having to do so?
"That's a tricky question," Cody says. But the answer isn't.
"Football is a team sport," he says."I don't think any one person can make up for Leonard." But they're not looking at it as one person's responsibility. It's a theme that the D-line guys have been talking about a great deal among themselves.
"We've had a talk with all our guys. It starts with us," he says of the big guys up front. "We can't blame it on the defensive backs if they complete a pass. It's on us."
The point is, Cody says, "What we're out here trying to do is take account of each other."
Now that he's healthy, that's a game Cody says he's happy to play.
The Trojans will be off the rest of this week for spring break and will return to practice Tuesday, March 24, at Cromwell Field.
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