Spring Cleaning: Linebackers

Could Chris Galippo end up starting on the outside? How good is Michael Morgan? What can Hayes Pullard and Glen Stanley offer immediately? Look inside for the answers to these questions and much more.

Depth chart

Michael Morgan
Marquis Simmons
Chris Galippo OR
Devon Kennard
Malcolm Smith
Shane Horton OR
Simione Vehikite

Three questions answered in the spring

1. It's all about the backups.

Chris Gallipo could contribute in the middle and on the outside. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
Raise your hand if USC will get through a 13-game regular season with its top linebackers healthy. With those four likely also to contribute on special teams, those odds decrease dramatically. So it will come down to names like Simmons, Horton and Vehikite to keep the defense on track.

After a slow start, that group, especially Vehikite, performed well to close out spring practice. They will need to continue that progress through the next few months, if only so they can be called upon to relieve the starters from time to time.

2. Devon Kennard will be a force.

As a sheer physical presence, it's hard not to compare Kennard to former Trojan Rey Maualuga. The former defensive end has the raw power to blow through anyone in his way.

The entire staff raved about how Kennard has taken to such a rare move. At the same time, he benefited from the new staff and their teaching to bring Kennard up to speed.

Now, it's all about the nuances of the position, most especially pass coverage. Given the quality of quarterbacks found in the Pac-10, Kennard can't be a liability or else opponents will attack him through the air every chance they get.

3. Don't forget about Malcolm Smith.

With all the attention focused on the middle linebacker battle, it would be easy to forget about Smith, largely because he was limited by offseason ankle surgery. But every time, he was on the field, the senior made plays, prompting Kiffin to say he looked like "a big-time NFL guy."

Entrenched on the strongside, Smith put together some of his statistical performances late last season, including 15 tackles and a pick six against UCLA. If he can progress from there, Smith could emerge as one of USC's best defenders.

Three questions for the fall

1. Could Chris Galippo end up starting on the outside?

Monte Kiffin said time and again that Galippo is a middle linebacker, yet there he was in the final week of spring ball, working on the outside.

Whether Galippo plays there during the season depends on several factors, including Kennard's development. If he emerges, then Galippo can be deployed elsewhere.

And just maybe, after a series of back injuries and surgeries, Galippo might not be able to wade through the traffic as demanded from the man in the middle.

2. How good is Michael Morgan?

The other part of the Galippo question has to do with the incumbent at weakside. Morgan led the team in tackles for loss last season with 13, but his effectiveness waned as the year went along. He did not start the final four games and had just 10 total tackles in that span, none against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl.

Was he worn down, like Galippo, limiting his contributions?

Perhaps Morgan needed the protection of a nearly 300-pound defensive end like Armond Armstead. The defensive line might be the difference in getting the senior back on track.

3. What can Hayes Pullard and Glen Stanley offer immediately?

In 2005, Brian Cushing got pushed into a starting job as a freshman because of injury. Later that year, another rookie in Maualuga would find his way into the lineup. That's probably not the plan Kiffin has in mind for Stanley and Pullard, the only two additions to the depleted linebacker group come this fall.

Stanley, the junior college transfer, is listed as a WILL backer on the spring depth chart but is likely to provide depth at both outside spots.

It will be a steeper learning curve for Pullard. Whether, or how much, he is called upon could be indicative of how the Trojans season goes.

Senior Malcolm Smith could emerge as a star for the defense in 2010.

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