Interior D-line concerns for Kiffin


LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Lane Kiffin said one of his biggest concerns coming out of spring ball was the depth on the interior of the defensive line.

Kiffin made it clear that he was talking about players outside of George Uko, who locked up the defensive tackle spot with flashes of dominant play this spring. When it comes to a starter at nose tackle or a dependable option behind Uko, that’s where things get pretty shaky.

The coaches tried Greg Townsend at the DT spot, but just as quickly moved him back out to end as a reserve to Devon Kennard. Walk-on Zack Kusnir ended the spring as the No. 2 DT on the depth chart but it stands to reason that either Christian Heyward -- who missed spring due to shoulder surgery -- or an incoming player such as Leonard Williams will eventually grab that spot.

At nose tackle, J.R. Tavai began the spring as the starter until Antwaun Woods earned some first-team reps with his improved play. It would have been ideal to see one player take control of the situation, but that didn’t happen and the competition will continue into the fall.

“We’ve got some work to do on the inside of the defensive line,” Kiffin said. “As good as Uko looked at times, he needs to be more consistent. None of the other guys at that spot have played yet.

“We need to find a rotation at nose tackle. Neither of those guys are playing at an Uko-level right now. In fairness to Tavai, he’s probably a defensive tackle, but we didn’t want him sitting behind Uko, so we have him at nose. J.R. and Antwaun are two very different players so it gives us some options. Tavai is smaller and quicker while Woods is bigger.”