Could be the most dominant unit from top to bottom on the team. Shaun Cody is just a football player, really glad to know that he's a Trojan. We could see him develop over the next few years into one of the truly elite players in the country. Kenechi Udeze has settled in around 270 pounds and his future is bright as well. The other two starting spots are up for grabs and whoever doesn't get the job will certainly see plenty of time as a reserve. One of the keys to the effectiveness of a good defensive line is the ability to go 2-deep across the line so that you can rotate players throughout the game and keep them fresher for the fourth quarter. Bernard Riley was showing signs of becoming a breakout player before his injury but he is healthy now and a leader on the team. He will compete with Mike Patterson at tackle and Mike has dropped down to 268 and improved his already quick first step off the ball. Omar Nazel and Van Brown are at the other end spot. Nazel is at 250 lbs. with a 37" vertical leap while Brown is at 267 lbs. and has the potential to be a real playmaker. Even with the loss of Austin Jackson (junior college) and A.J. Single (shoulder injury) we can still field solid reserves if Danny Urquhart and Anthony Daye can fill those roles. Daye was buried on the depth chart but has worked hard and will be given the first shot at the 4th tackle spot.
If there is a concern on the defense it is at linebacker. If everybody is healthy and ready to play we should be fine but this is a group that has a tendency to get banged up. Mike Pollard proved last year that he can play with the best of them when is on the field but his ability to stay injury free is among the primary concerns. Lee Webb has shown in practice that he has a nose for the ball and he will get his share of opportunities this season. Oscar Lua is a hitter with tremendous size and speed although he would benefit from a redshirt year. The return of Matt Grootegoed from his broken leg will go a long way in determining how good this group is. Matt has said he is healthy but we won't know for sure until he hits the field. We will also see Chris Prosser and Aaron Graham at SLB and both showed in the spring that they can make plays from the position so that gives us good depth. Melvin Simmons was perhaps the top linebacker in the spring and his continued emergence would really solidify the WLB spot. There are high hopes for Bobby Otani as his primary reserve but he is another player with injury concerns.
Troy Polamalu returns as the heart of the Trojan defense and he is a true All-American in every sense of the word. If Pete Carroll was able to create the kind of havoc with Troy that we saw last year then we can't wait to see what is possible this season. The coaches praise DeShaun Hill for his football intelligence and work ethic but most Trojan fans will need to see a more consistent performance before feeling truly comfortable in his abilities as a starter. If John Walker can pick up where he left off in the spring he may be able to take a run at Hill but chances are DeShaun will hold on to the job in part due to solid off-season workouts that should really increase his strength. Jason Leach will be the primary reserve for Polamalu. Let the competition begin at cornerback with Kevin Arbet and Darrell Rideaux entering fall camp as the favorites to win starting jobs and both need to show early in camp that they are up to the task. Ronald Nunn was impressive in early practices while Marcell Allmond could present Carroll with some wonderful match-up possibilities if he can rise up and make a major contribution. Justin Wyatt has too many skills to redshirt.
There aren't too many things that are more secure than knowing we will have Pete Carroll calling the defense for the Trojans. There is no doubt that we will be prepared, we will confuse the opponent and we will make excellent adjustments. Last season the defense was young, it featured several players learning new positions and they were also adjusting to a new system but the numbers show significant potential. We led the Pac-10 in scoring defense, had a conference high 37 sacks and also tied for 5th nationally in turnover margin. One of Carroll's great gifts is his ability to create a defensive system that is based upon the individual capabilities of his players rather than by trying to force his players to fit the needs of his system. As he continues to learn these players and begins to recruit players who closely fit his needs we should only see even more improvement.