Junior Uchenna Nwosu was one of USC’s most dependable backups last year, making 31 tackles while being on nearly every special teams and playing behind USC’s best defender, Su’a Cravens. Now Nwosu is ready to take over a starting role.
He moved around last season, going from SAM linebacker to a middle linebacker after the injuries to Cam Smith and Lamar Dawson, but then returning outside by the end of the year. He’s showing his versatility once again this spring. While he’s listed as an inside linebacker in the spring prospectus, Nwosu primarily played the SAM position the first week of practice.
But while it is the same position in name that he played last season, the responsibilities have changed under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
“It’s my first time in a new defense obviously, so I’ve got to get used to some things, but overall I’m liking it so far and everything is going great.”
The biggest difference has been attacking the quarterback on a regular basis — something that was reserved for the Rush Ends last season with a smattering of middle linebacker blitzes. Now, in Pendergast’s system, the outside linebackers become stand up defensive ends in nickel situations.
“I never really did as much pass rushing in the last defense, but there’s a lot more pass rushing in this defense for me, so I’ve got to work on that obviously,” Nwosu said. “Just coming in and watch film as much as I can. Keep taking notes from older guys that’s been here that came out. Keep getting into my coaches, my playbook. That’s how I’m going to overall get better.”
“That’s what makes money in the NFL — sacks and pressure on the quarterback. I’m happy I’m getting those opportunities.”
Nwosu has been constantly watching film of Von Miller to study how Miller sets up defenders play after play. He pays particular attention to how the smaller Miller is able to get around much larger offensive tackles using a variety of speed and power techniques. Nwosu is working to emulate Miller’s leverage off the edge and his ability to use his hands to foil the offensive linemen’s attempts to latch on to him.
Rather than spring results, Nwosu said his focus is on technique. He believes his greatest gains will come from consistently having sound technique. Then the high school linebacker/safety hybrid listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds (much more likely 235-240 now) can let his athleticism take over.
“I’ve got a lot of things to work on and continue each practice. That’s how I’m going to get better. I just have to stay on top of myself.”
The energy from the coaching staff will make that easier as they have brought a zealous passion to Howard Jones Field each of the first three practices, which has Nwosu and his teammates excited.
“I love the new coaching staff. They’re good. They work with everybody. They’re helping me to stay focused and helping me get better.”
After fast starts and stumbles down the stretch in 2014 and dreadfully slow starts out of the gate after Clay Helton took over in 2015, the Trojans know they have to play a full 60 minutes and that’s what the coaching staff is trying to instill this spring.
“That’s what we have to do. We have to keep up the intensity,” Nwosu said. “We have to start fast. We have to keep our momentum going. That’s pretty much going to be the ultimate key to our success.”
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