When the ball was snapped to freshman quarterback Matt Fink, he barely had time to catch the ball and spin it in his hand to find his grip before a defender was right on top of him. A night fury had fired around the edge and blasted into the backfield.
A series later, it was Sam Darnold’s turn attempting to avoid the near-immediate attack from the SAM linebacker position. Incoming Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis School freshman Jordan Iosefa was making an impact in one of his first summer workout sessions and the first guy leading the cheers was junior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.
Like a proud papa, Nwosu was quick to point out that Iosefa has been learning the outside linebacker position under his tutelage.
“He learned that from me!” Nwosu exclaimed to his teammates after one play.
Iosefa is slated for a trajectory similar to Nwosu, who was a three-star prospect that didn’t have a definitive position at the next level. Nwosu split his time between safety and linebacker in high school while Iosefa is capable of playing inside or outside. There were questions amongst the coaching staff about where he fit best, but he has looked very comfortable creating chaos off the edge during the summer workouts.
That has put the onus on Nwosu to show him the ropes, even though Nwosu is still learning the SAM linebacker position himself. Through teaching, Nwosu has been able to get a thorough comprehension.
“With me teaching him, I see him making some mistakes and I'm like 'Oh yea, I have to make sure I don't make the same mistake,’” Nwosu said. “If he makes a certain move and I like it, I can also use that technique. He's made some good moves. I can try some new moves. You see different angles to attack from watching and teaching, so it kind of helps my game overall.”
Nwosu has been impressed by how quickly Iosefa has been able to pick up the nuances and techniques of the position he is learning.
“He’s really improving fast,” Nwosu said. “He's very humble. He listens. He takes coaching very well. I feel like that's his biggest asset.”
Iosefa is making a similar progression to the one Nwosu made in spring in his first action under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. He’s continued that through the summer.
“With the new position, you've got to adjust. I like it. It's a lot more work. It's a lot tougher. I feel like it makes you more of a man. I like the position and I like pass rushing and getting to the quarterback.
“For me personally, I can say that I'm improving. For the whole defense, I can say I've seen a lot of progress. I'm pretty happy and I think we're going to be pretty good for the upcoming season.”
Nwosu credits the strength and conditioning work of Ivan Lewis and particularly assistant Torre Becton with his progress in the offseason. Becton has put the Trojans through workouts designed not just for adding muscle, but position-appropriate muscle building.
“He's got us doing all these amazing workouts to get our bodies stronger, to get certain things that we need like getting off blocks and stuff like that -- different strength techniques.”
Along with trying to get stronger this offseason, Nwosu has been gobbling up as much film as he can consume. He’s particularly focused on watching elite NFL pass rushers as his new position will have him attacking the backfield more frequently. J.J. Watt and Von Miller are two of the players he has been zoning in on.
Miller is of particular interest in Nwosu. He is trying to craft his pass rush techniques from what he’s seeing of Miller on film Not only is the Super Bowl MVP one of the game’s most lethal defensive weapons, but he also is a guy Nwosu sees as having a similar body type and being a “finesse” pass rusher with a variety of moves.
Now he’s waiting for the opportunity to unleash those moves on Sept. 3 in the season opener against Alabama. On the national stage, Pendergast’s defense will be put under the microscope as it tries to shut down the offensive attack of former USC head coach Lane Kiffin.
Will the Trojans be ready?
“Yes sir!” Nwosu said. “Clancy's system is awesome. Everybody is loving it so far. Everything is going smooth.”