The good news coming out of spring ball is that two candidates clearly emerged as the leading contenders to take over in the middle. We should also see a full contingent of healthy veteran players on the outside so right now as we sit a little more than three weeks away from fall camp the d-line might not be as much of a worry as originally feared.
2005 Defensive Line
Sedrick Ellis (photo) was one of the bigger bright spots of spring ball as he has the coaches genuinely excited about his ability to take over for Patterson at the NG spot. Sed doesn't have the quick first step that Mike had but he is a powerful force who could be our most physical player. Sedrick uses his hands extremely well and he's responded to the mental challenge of taking his game to a new level. The spot next to Sed was expected to be filled by Manny Wright but academic issues forced his entry into the NFL supplemental draft and instead we saw a battle-tested senior emerge in spring to stake his claim to the job. La Juan Ramsey has seen a lot of action in his USC career at both tackle and end, unfortunately he has also seen his share of time on the injured list and that will be a big key for the Trojans this year. We know that if LaJuan is healthy he will be more than capable of handling the job, he even put on 20 pounds in the off-season to help take the pounding and that's a sign that he knows more is expected of him this year.
To help spell Ramsey we have an emerging big man in Fili Moala. Fili is ready to start making a contribution this year and it would be ideal for him to back-up LaJuan while learning the position and then be ready to compete for the open spot in 2006. The coaches would like to see Fili become more aggressive on the field. There are a couple players who could end up seeing time behind Ellis at NG. Travis Draper was moved from the OL last year and he seems to be more of a natural fit on the defensive side of the ball. Travis has a thick frame that gives him the ability to anchor the middle when it needs to be anchored. Travis Tofi is a guy who can understand and play any line spot, he's got enough size and athletic ability to be a serviceable reserve when needed. Lawrence Miles is still growing and is likely a year away from really seeing meaningful playing time. We will also see a pair of incoming freshmen as Walker Lee Ashley and Averell Spicer are headed to the middle. Both of these guys, along with DE recruit Kyle Moore, were ranked among the best in the nation last year and they are a nice group with size and ability that can be molded into Trojan defensive linemen.
On the outside of the line, things are looking pretty good right now for USC with two talented starters and some key reserves who are anxious to show what they can do. The starters, Lawrence Jackson and Frostee Rucker, will be counted on for the leadership role that Cody and Patterson provided last year. Jackson, who was named a Freshman All-American last season, could be the most talented overall player on the d-line and if he keeps showing improvement there's no telling how good he can be. Lawrence has tremendous instincts for the game, specifically for rushing the passer, and he will look to bring his run defense to a similar level this year. On the other side, Rucker (photo) will be the guy and expectations are high for Frostee with the good news being it looks like his lingering toe injury has finally healed. Frostee has 17 games under his belt as a starter and he is one of the vocal leaders of the team. You can also argue that his read of the shovel pass on the last drive against Cal was as important as any play made by a Trojan last year. Frostee will be pushed in practice by rising star Jeff Schweiger, a natural pass rusher who has bulked up to 265 pounds and is ready to become an everydown player. Schweiger got thrown into the fire last year as a freshman and learned a lot from the experience, it should start paying off this year. No matter how these two are rotated it should be a powerful combination.
A number of other players could see time at the end spots. Rashaad Goodrum is a pass rusher and his primary focus will be to put pressure on the quarterback when he is in the ball game. Rashaad showed a nose for the ball in spring with several recovered fumbles. Chris Barrett has the size and athletic ability to be a monster player but so far injuries have kept him from realizing that potential with the Trojans. He is another player who, if healthy, can have a big impact. This fall camp will be critical for Alex Morrow as he needs to continue learning and improving to the point where he can compete for playing time. Alex has increased his size in the off-season so that's a good sign.
The line needs to come together fast in order for the defense to be successful and there is a lot of confidence within the program that it will happen. Under Pete Carroll we've seen several players step up at different positions following the losses of great players and there's no reason to think things will be any different on the d-line this year.
Returning stat leaders
Lawrence Jackson 32 tackles, 11 TFL, 6 sacks
Frostee Rucker 29 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks
Jeff Schweiger 18 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks
* Cody and Patterson combined for 29 TFL and 16 sacks in 2004
Defensive Line roster
#94 Walker Lee Ashley 6-5, 295 FR
#91 Chris Barrett 6-5, 265 SO
#64 Mike Davis 6-0, 280 JR (walk-on)
#63 Travis Draper 6-4, 295 FR
#49 Sedrick Ellis 6-1, 285 SO
#44 Rashaad Goodrum 6-3, 245 JR
#96 Lawrence Jackson 6-5, 265 SO
#93 Lawrence Miles 6-2, 265 FR
#75 Fili Moala 6-4, 300 FR
#84 Kyle Moore 6-7, 265 FR
#97 Alex Morrow 6-6, 265 SO
#98 LaJuan Ramsey 6-3, 290 SR
#90 Frostee Rucker 6-3, 260 SR
#54 Jeff Schweiger 6-4, 265 SO
#99 Averell Spicer 6-2, 265 FR
#95 Travis Tofi 6-4, 255 JR
#65 Jeff Tola 6-0, 220 SO (walk-on)
Defensive Line projected depth chart to start fall camp
DE – Rucker, Schweiger
NT – Ellis, Draper
DT – Ramsey, Moala
DE – Jackson, Goodrum
2005 USC Position Previews
Thursday, July 7th - Linebacker
Monday, July 11th - Defensive Line
Thursday, July 14th - Defensive Back
Monday, July 18th - Special Teams
Thursday, July 21st - Offensive Line
Monday, July 25th - Wide Receiver
Thursday, July 28th - Tight End
Monday, August 1st - Running Back
Thursday, August 4th - Quarterback