The line is in great hands right now with the combination of Ed Orgeron and Pete Carroll in charge. Lonnie Ford was simply wonderful this year, a senior who made big plays game in and game out to prove that he belonged at defensive end in the first place. Ryan Nielsen didn't have the stats of other players but the value that he and Ford provided to the extremely young line cannot be overestimated. The line suffered a key injury when Bernard Riley, who was just coming into his own, went down with a broken leg but all that did was open up a spot for freshman Shaun Cody and boy did he take advantage of the opportunity. Cody has big time written all over him. Who would have thought two years ago that the properly named "Big" Kenechi Udeze would be starting at end as a redshirt freshman but he has slimmed down and is moving well to go along with his strength. We also saw tremendous contribution from Mike Patterson, a true freshman who gets off the ball as quick as anyone, and Omar Nazel, who has the potential to be a dominant pass rusher with his wing span. It was a shame to see the redshirt year of Jason Wardlow used for what amounted to little more than a few sprints on the kickoff team.
Speed at the linebacker spot is critical in the Carroll defense and we saw many changes to improve in this area. Carroll called Matt Grootegoed a "mongoose" and that is a very accurate description for the former safety who has uncanny instincts for the game. The concerns about moving him because of his limited size proved to be valid after his injury and he could move to WLB next season. Frank Strong never seemed to grasp his new position but his speed and athletic ability allowed him to make enough plays that someone will give this talent a look at the next level. No player improved as much throughout the season as Mike Pollard, an aggressive hard hitter who has a body that is worn down and injury prone. When he is healthy and eligible Chris Prosser brings the combination of size and speed that we need. Aaron Graham really struggled late in the season while Lee Webb showed some promise in his limited playing time. Bobby Otani needs to add size.
There's no question that the best player on the field for USC this year was Troy Polamalu. Troy was the definition of the word playmaker on defense and earned All American honors, with a solid senior season he will take his place among Lott, Smith and Carrier as Trojan safeties of lore and that statement should speak for itself. The best cover corner on the team was Chris Cash but his injury opened the door for Antuan Simmons to return to his more natural corner spot and that switch sparked the defense. Simmons had a fairytale game against UCLA as part of his dramatic return to the field. Kris Richard is a good athlete who provided a key moment with his interception returned for a touchdown against Arizona. Kevin Arbet did a lot of blitzing from the nickel back and he should be a starter next year with Darrell Rideaux hoping to earn the opposite spot. DeShaun Hill needs to work on his pass coverage at the free safety position and we could see Jason Leach on the field more next year.
It's probably not fair to Mike MacGillivray but after his performance the past four years it's quite possible that Tom Malone might be the most eagerly anticipated member of this year's recruiting class. David Davis, on the other hand, was the newcomer of the year as he stepped into a gaping hole in our kicking game and responded as the top kicker in the conference. Troy Polamalu and Kevin Arbet deserve special mention for their work on special teams as does Kennedy Pola for his inspired teaching and effort.