Fall Storylines: Defense

Are you ready for some football? Look inside for a preview of the Trojans' defense.

Are you ready for some football?

Never have truer words been spoken. For USC fans, players, coaches and administrators, the start of fall camp Wednesday represents a clean break from the unprecedented turmoil of the offseason, including sanctions, transfers, releases and now a lawsuit.

But all those circumstances will have an effect on what happens at Howard Jones Field, in addition to the unanswered questions left from the spring.

With all that said, there are 27 practices before the season opener at Hawaii and plenty of issues still to be hashed out.

Is the depth still there on the defensive line?

Armond Armstead is a key member of USC's talented defensive line.
All spring long, Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron told anyone that would listen the line was the best and deepest unit on the roster. Since then, USC lost Christian Tupou to a knee injury and Malik Jackson to transfer.

The Trojans still have the numbers, but the margin for error has been dramatically reduced. At defensive end, Jackson would have been a key reserve, while the loss of Tupou could force freshman George Uko into action.

The group should be fine this season, but puts renewed pressure to maintain the strong crop of recruits already committed – Jalen Grimble and Antwaun Woods – and close strong with another two or three linemen.

Who starts at middle linebacker (and does it really matter)?

They are both going to play.

Let me repeat that. Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo are going to play, a lot and a lot together. In that sense, it really don't matter who starts this season.

In fact, by using both in a platoon, it can keep them both fresh; Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith too. After all, the biggest issue for the defense last season was seeing those linebackers get worn down and run over by Oregon and Stanford.

By playing all four in various combinations and maybe getting a handful of snaps from others like Simi Vehikite, the USC defense should be positioned for a major turnaround from the collapse of 2009.

Could there be a shakeup in the secondary?

Short answer, no. Outside of the toss up at corner between Torin Harris, T.J. Bryant and possibly Brian Baucham if healthy, the other spots in the defensive backfield are all settled.

But with the chance to line up opposite potential All-American Shareece Wright, the winner will have a chance to make a lot of plays once quarterbacks elect not to throw at the former Colton High standout.

Harris performed well before getting hurt, while Bryant seems better positioned for work in nickel and dime packages or working the slot.

What can we expect from the enigma that is special teams? Who knows? Does Joe Houston hold on to his apparent lead at placekicker coming out of the spring or will Jacob Harfman handle all punting and kicking duties? Can the Trojans afford to put its top line players out there on coverage and return teams given their limited numbers?

There is no bigger mystery in fall camp, but John Baxter's track record indicates USC will see significant improvement in all areas of special teams.

The special teams should be improved in 2010 under John Baxter.

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