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Tuesday, December 11, 2012
USC defense review and 2013 preview

By Garry Paskwietz

Our look back at the USC defense for 2012 and a look ahead for what to expect in 2013.

What was good in 2012: The emergence of a pair of newcomers on the defensive line in Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams.

Heading into the season, the depth along the line was a major concern and both players were unknown commodities. Breslin was the one to break out first, notching one sack in each of the first two games and 3.5 sacks in game four against California. His motor and pursuit skills were a pleasant surprise and by the end of the season he led the Trojans with 12 sacks while being named second team All-Pac-12.

Williams had a lot of promise as a true freshman and was moved immediately to defensive tackle in fall camp. He also had a sack in each of the first two games, but it was his production at the end of the season which really showcased his potential in the middle, as Williams had 14 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles in the Trojans final three games of the year. Williams was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

What was bad in 2012: The defensive scheme. Simply put, the USC defense should not have had the struggles it did this season -- there was too much experienced talent with the entire back seven returning and enough talented players in the overall mix to produce a better showing.

The fact that defensive mastermind Monte Kiffin announced his resignation so quickly after the season ended was no surprise, and that speaks volumes about how things went for the defense. The lowlight -- if you will -- was the 730-yard, 62-point performance by Oregon, although that certainly wasn’t the only problem game of the year. There were no obvious answers coming under Monte’s watch, so a change was in order.

Impact of new defensive coordinator: This will be a critical hire for Lane Kiffin, who has announced that he will look outside the program for someone with experience in stopping Pac-12 style offenses, namely variations of the spread.

Kiffin has already said that Ed Orgeron will move to the assistant head coach role and still be in charge of the defensive line, which is good news for USC fans. The status is less clear on linebacker coach Scottie Hazelton and defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders. Both are still with the team, but there has been no word if the new coordinator would want to bring some of his own guys with him. Hazelton and Sanders were both in their first year at USC and it’s difficult to judge them within the collapse of the overall defense, but it’s safe to say that neither of their position groups performed as well as it did in 2011.

Hayes Pullard
It will be interesting to see whether junior linebacker Hayes Pullard remains on the outside or if he gets a shot at middle linebacker.
Depth chart analysis for 2013: This should be the beginning of a nice era for the defensive line. There is a solid group of players returning, along with the return of Devon Kennard from injury and an incoming freshman class which is loaded. The biggest thing to watch at linebacker is where the players will line up in spring. Is Dion Bailey still at linebacker or does he move to safety? Does Lamar Dawson stay in the middle, or does Hayes Pullard get a look? Lots of options to consider there. In the secondary, things will be up in the air with the possibility of new starters at all four spots. Both safeties graduate, Josh Shaw could move from corner to safety, and Nickell Robey might enter the NFL draft.

Key position battle: Any of the secondary spots. Obviously Robey is set as one starting corner if he comes back, but everything else is pretty open with no clear-cut answers. One name to keep an eye on at corner is Kevon Seymour, as he has some good man cover skills. Have Demetrius Wright or Gerald Bowman shown enough to lock down a safety spot? No. That’s why there could be position switches from Shaw and/or Bailey, and don’t be surprised if true freshman Su'a Cravens gets a long look in spring.

Freshman impact: Jabari Ruffin. He will more than likely be at outside linebacker -- it’s just not clear which spot it would be under a new coordinator. Ruffin also got some reps at defensive end in the fall, but those didn’t really take. His future is bright as a physical player with size, and that’s something the USC linebacker group could use right now.