It’s been less than two months since Clancy Pendergast arrived on campus at USC, but after a winter conditioning workout earlier this week, rising redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Antwaun Woods could barely contain himself when the topic of the Trojans’ new defensive coordinator and his 5-2 defense came up.
“After meeting with him in the defensive meetings, I’m really excited about the scheme he runs,” Woods said of Pendergast. “We’re attacking. We’re not playing passive. We’re not doing any of that. The Ravens ran the same defense, and after seeing what they did in the Super Bowl, it’s good to know that we’re running something like that.”
To be sure, it’s a defense vastly different from the Trojans’ 4-3 look of recent seasons, both in terms of alignment and philosophy, and one that Woods hopes to play an integral part in after a redshirt freshman campaign that was marked by peaks and valleys.
Beginning the season as the team’s starting nose tackle, Woods finished with 16 tackles and three sacks, but he was ultimately supplanted atop the depth chart after four games -- a move that allowed Leonard Williams to line up as the three technique defensive tackle, with George Uko moving over to Woods’ previous spot.
But it’s a different season, and as they say, with change comes opportunity. With Pendergast's alignment employing the use of three interior linemen, the 6-foot-1, 315-pound Woods is perhaps the team’s most natural fit to man the middle of the line at nose -- one of the most crucial positions in the 5-2. It's a role that he's already discussed with the USC coaches, and one that actually isn’t a whole lot different from what he’s already been doing for the last two years.
“My responsibilities are going to be the same as they were before -- just take care of the A-gap,” Woods said. “If I stay in the A-gap, we win. I just love playing at nose, doing all of the dirty work. Taking on double teams, pass rush…I love everything about it. I like the dirty work.”
But in order for Woods to contribute and nail down a starting job, he’ll first have to put on a strong showing this March and April -- something that he’s well aware of and that he’s used as extra motivation this winter during workouts. Possessing a skill-set highlighted by his strength and stout size, he’s made a concerted effort this offseason to become a more complete player, with a special emphasis on his conditioning.
“My thing this winter has just been to get into top shape so I can play in a full game, and to just work on everything, really,” Woods said.
For a defensive line unit that already returns most of the members from a group that amassed a staggering 38 sacks in 2012, a new and improved Woods will be more than welcomed. Throw in Devon Kennard -- who returns from injury to likely play at one of the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker spots -- and freshman early enrollee Kenny Bigelow, and this group has the potential to shine once again.
“We’re looking really great,” Woods said. “We have Leonard [Williams] back -- he had a great season. We’ve got George [Uko]. We actually get to add on Devon [Kennard]. And you know Morgan [Breslin] -- he’s a great pass rusher. I think we’re going to be really good.”
Just how good remains to be seen. But with a refocused, no-nonsense Woods in the fold, there’s certainly reason for optimism.
“I’m just competing in everything I do until I leave here,” Woods said. “Whether I’m starting, second team, fifth team...I’m going to compete until I leave. I’m just going to keep my mouth closed and work as hard as I can.”