USC Defensive Line Getting Chances to Impress

With limited depth, USC's healthy defensive lineman are getting every opportunity to make their mark during the spring practice period. DL coach Chris Wilson talks about his position group.

The USC defensive line is struggling with depth concerns during spring practice with a couple of players being banged up and the departure of the Big Cat, Leonard Williams.

But defensive line coach Chris Wilson doesn’t want to hear about it. Instead, what does he want from his players?

“Just play.”

That’s how the Trojans are dealing with running uptempo practices and not having many bodies with Antwaun Woods and Greg Townsend unavailable for full contact up front…by not dealing with it at all.

“I wish I could give you a magical answer,” Wilson said. “The key thing about what we do is we make everything game-like, so if guys get stops, we get them out of the game and we put the next available guys in. If that’s two new guys, we’ll keep them on a three-man rotation and we’ll just keep playing.”

Veterans Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons are getting every opportunity to establish themselves as clear frontrunners for two of the defensive line spots in USC’s 3-4 defense, but other inexperienced players are also getting chances to prove themselves with plenty of repetitions. Cody Temple and Joey Augello are seeing lots of time at the nose tackle position while young guys like Malik Dorton are receiving invaluable reps at defensive end.

Dorton has bulked up to more than 270 pounds, according to Wilson, and is carrying the weight really well as he transitions to having his hand on the ground every snap.

“He’s just got to understand the speed of the game. The closer you get to the ball, the less mistakes you can make from a technique standpoint or a mental standpoint. He’s trying to pick up all the terminology and then what to do and then go at it full speed. It’s a process and he’s working well.

He has stood out in a handful of practices while also getting lost in the shuffle some days — a process that isn’t unexpected from Wilson.

“The thing that he’s got to do is he’s just got to understand the defense and learn the defense. When you do that, you’ll play so much faster. His hesitancy is just him learning the schematics and the speed of the game. It’s only practice six. We’ve still got nine more to go. There’s a lot of football ahead for him.”

Dorton and the rest of the Trojans have also benefitted from having an extra week of rest during spring break. It was a week for players to study tape and see what’s being done right and wrong, but also a week to get their bodies healed so that when the Trojans start back up later today, they are going full speed.

And for the returning defensive lineman that’s important because USC is bringing in a handful of big-bodied recruits that could vie for immediate action. Five-star Rasheem Green is joined by Christian Rector at defensive end while the Trojans added three big boy defensive tackles with Jacob Daniel, Noah Jefferson and Kevin Scott all expected to weigh in around 300 pounds.

“We like the group and we brought them in to play,” Wilson said. “When we were recruiting these guys, we all talked about wanting to play and every one of them wanted to compete. From Day 1 when they walk on this campus, we’re going to prepare them to play their first game of the year. It’ll be fun.”

He said the Trojans weren’t actively trying to get bigger with this recruiting class, but he’s not complaining about it either. It’s not the only thing the Trojans are happy about with the young guys that will join the fray in the fall.

“You want size because you can’t teach that, so we want great size, but more than anything, we want athleticism,” Chris Wilson said. “Guys that can change directions. Guys who are explosive. Guys who can make plays in space because that’s the day and age of college football.”

But until those guys get on campus, guys like Dorton, Pelon, Simmons and Temple will get as many opportunities as they can handle to prove they will be the go-to guys in the fall when Wilson needs someone to make a critical stop. Top Stories