USC Preview 2006 - Defense
USC Trojans
Posted Aug 8, 2006

USC Trojans Preview 2006 - USC Trojan Defense

What you need to know ... What the D lacks in overall experience it makes up for in ridiculous talent and athleticism. The linebacking corps is one of the best in America with a third string that would form a killer starting trio for about 95 other teams. The secondary doesn't have any big names, but that will change quickly if some of the superstar freshmen play well right away and if there's good competition for the safety spots. End Lawrence Jackson and tackle Sedrick Ellis are great players to build around on a line that should have few problems getting into the backfield. The return of former defensive coordinator and former Idaho head coach Nick Holt adds even more punch.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Oscar Lua, 66
Sacks: Lawrence Jackson, 10
Interceptions: Josh Pinkard, Ryan Ting, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Lawrence Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Fili Moala
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Kyle Moore
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) DT Sedrick Ellis, 3) LB Keith Rivers
Strength of the defense: Linebackers
Weakness of the defense:
Experience on the line

Defensive Line
This could be the Achilles' heel early, but it should turn into a killer of a pass rushing unit as the season goes on. Lawrence Jackson is an All-America caliber talent at one end, but a steady pass rusher, hopefully Kyle Moore, has to develop on the other side to take the pressure off. Sedrick Ellis is an undersized and underrated tackle to build around, and there are plenty of good prospects ready to fill in the gaps. Fortunately, the impressive linebacking corps will clean up most of the mistakes the front four makes.
The key to the unit: Quickly develop a consistent rotation at tackle and hope for Kyle Moore to grow into his potential as a dominant pass rusher.
Defensive Line Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- LDE Lawrence Jackson, Jr. - 46 tackles, 10 sacks, 13 TFL, 6 broken up passes, 4 forced fumbles
The star of the line, Jackson became a pass rushing terror last year with too much quickness for most tackles and enough size and strength to handle himself against the maulers. He has the speed of a linebacker in a 6-5, 265-pound frame. Expect All-America honors.

- DT Chris Barrett, Jr. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
One of the surprises of spring ball, Barrett came out as a starter at defensive tackle. The former defensive end and tight end is a fantastic athlete on the inside and is a natural pass rusher. Don't expect him to be an every-down tackle as part of a good rotation.

- NT Sedrick Ellis, Jr. - 50 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8 TFL
Ellis has to be a rock up front as one of the few returning linemen with any appreciable experience. The 285-pound junior is coming off a strong year where he stepped into Mike Patterson's old job and held his own. He's a bit unsung, but that won't happen this year as his quickness and great technique will crank out the stats for All-Pac 10 honors.

- RDE Kyle Moore, Soph. - 6 tackles
Moore is an interesting talent at 6-7 and 265 pounds. He has the size to grow into an athletic tackle, but he'll make his mark as a pure pass rusher who could grow into something special if Lawrence Jackson takes all the attention away on the other side. Expect him to go on runs where he's unstoppable.

Top Backups
-  DT Fili Moala, Soph. - 8 tackles, 1 TFL 
The line needs the 300-pound Moala to be a big-time player right away. This isn't a huge line, so Moala's bulk will be key against the run. He's the cousin of former Oregon Duck All-America Haloti Ngata, and USC is hoping he can be nearly as good.
- DE Alex Morrow, Jr. - 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL
Morrow will give Lawrence Jackson a breather now and then and can be moved to either end spot when needed. He saw time in almost every game last year and should grow into a better pass rusher with more time.
- DT Lawrence Miles, Soph. - 1 tackle
A big-time recruit a few years ago, the 265-pound sophomore wasn't able to make much of an impact last year and finished up with a shoulder injury. He's a bit undersized, but he can tackle and is extremely quick off the ball. Now he has to show off his skills in live action.
- DE Jeff Schweiger, Jr. - 11 tackles, 1 TFL
One of the team's unsung linemen, the 260-pound junior provides experience and good tackling ability as a reserve. He can't seem to stay healthy with a variety of injuries over his career, but he's more than solid when he's right. He's neck and neck with Kyle Moore for a starting spot.
- DT Travis Tofi, 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
A bit undersized at 255 pounds, Tofi is a very quick interior pass rusher who'll mostly be used in passing situations. He's built like an end, but he's more effective as a tackle.
- DT Walker Lee Ashley, Fr.
One of the team's top recruits last year, Ashley is eligible after not qualifying. The 295-pound son of the former Penn State and Minnesota Viking star of the same name will be a key player early on and should quickly become one of the Pac 10's best interior pass rushers over the next few years.
- DT Averell Spicer, RFr.
A bit undersized at 265 pounds, Spicer has the quickness to become one of the lines best interior pass rushers playing on the nose. He's stronger than his size against the run.

A concern going into last season, the linebacking corps might be the best in America if all the parts are intact. This is a very big, very fast group with seven All-America caliber talents not counting the big-time freshmen coming in this summer. The return of Thomas Williams from a knee injury and Dallas Sartz from a shoulder problem gives the corps a big boost, while the progression of Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers as experienced veteran should mean few mistakes.
The key to the unit: Staying healthy and finding playing time for all the great talents.
Linebacker Rating: 10

Projected Starters
- Dallas Sartz, Sr. - 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFL
The 6-5, 240-pound senior started off his career at safety before becoming one of the team's most reliable linebackers with 116 career stops going into last season. He was all set to be the starter on the strongside again and the leader of the inexperienced linebacking corps when he suffered a shoulder injury and was knocked out for the year.

- Oscar Lua, 66 tackles, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles
While he isn't the most talented of the USC linebackers, he's among the most productive leading the team in tackles last year. Now he's battling with Rey Maualuge to try to keep his starting spot in the middle. He's a rock at 240 pounds, but he doesn't make too many plays in pass coverage or as a pass rusher.

- Keith Rivers, Jr. - 52 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 interception
Rivers was good last year and should be special this season. The superstar recruit of a few seasons ago handled himself well on the weakside, and now he's expected to take his game up another level and be more of a playmaker in the backfield using his speed size to be more disruptive.

Top Backups
- Rey Maualuga, Soph. - 37 tackles, 1 sack, 4.5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
As backups go, there's not a better one in America. The 6-3, 250-pound sophomore had a dominant season when he got his chance to shine in the middle. He's active with a good burst of speed to the ball with the quickness to handle himself well. He'll give Oscar Lua a huge push for the starting job.
- Thomas Williams, Jr. - 27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 4 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Williams has the talent to be the team's best linebacker, but he has to get healthy after a knee problem and then find a way to stay on the field. He's a strong 6-3 and 220 pounds with enough experience to grow into an All-America caliber player on the strongside, but once again, his knee has to be 100% first. He's big enough to play in the middle if needed.

- Brian Cushing, Soph. - 23 tackles, 3 broken up passes
A shoulder problem will keep him out this spring, but he'll still be a key player somewhere on the outside. He played a big role when injuries hit the linebacking corps, but it might be hard for the 6-4, 235-pound sophomore to see too much time with Thomas Williams and Dallas Sartz back in the mix on the strongside.
- Kaluka Maiava, Soph. - 20 tackles, 1 interception
Maiava came through with a nice freshman season on the outside as a backup and on special teams. He might see his playing time reduced a bit this year, but he's a great player to have in reserve with his nose for the ball and his quickness in pass coverage on the weakside.

Defensive Backs
Only one starter returns to the secondary, versatile corner Josh Pinkard, but last year's pass defense was a bit of a disappointment. The production of this year's defensive backs depends on how quickly some of the top prospects, like safety Kevin Ellison and corner Terrell Thomas, can be back as good as new after suffering injuries, and how quickly some of the superstar recruits can become playmakers. Freshmen Taylor Mays and Antwine Perez leads an all-star cast of NFL prospects that'll push hard for playing time right away.
The key to the unit: Hope for the veterans to hold their own for a little while until the star freshmen can get their feet wet. The recruits have to be as good as advertised.
Secondary Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- CB Terrell Thomas, Jr. - 5 tackles
All ready to be one of the team's new star corners, Thomas injured his knee and missed almost all of last year. The speedy junior has the size to play safety at 6-1 and 195 pounds, but he's strongest as a one-on-one defender. It still has to be seen whether or not he has the same quickness over the long haul he had before his injury, but he's been able to practice.

- FS Josh Pinkard, Jr. - 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Pinkard is one of the team's most important defenders because of his versatility. He started out last year at safety before moving to corner, and he proved he can handle himself well at either position. He's a physical, big-hitting back who should be in for a big season now that he knows what he's doing.

- SS Kevin Ellison, Soph. - 6 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
Ellison was on his way to a strong true freshman season when he suffered a horrible knee injury against Arizona State. He's a big hitter with a great nose for the ball, but he has to be 100% again to hold on to the strong safety job he got this spring.

- CB Kevin Thomas, Soph. - 7 tackles
A big, talented corner with next level speed, the 6-1 Thomas took over the starting job with Josh Pinkard moving back to safety. Thomas spent most of last year on special teams, but he saw a little bit of action and now looks to be an All-Pac 10 caliber playmaker.

Top Backups
- CB Cary Harris, Soph. - 9 tackles. 1 broken up pass
Everyone in the USC secondary can run, but Harris can really fly with legitimate 4.4 speed. He saw a little bit of time last year as a reserve and now he'll start out as the main backup behind Terrell Thomas on the left side.
- CB Mozique McCurtis, Soph.
A huge corner at 6-1 and 225 pounds, the JUCO transfer worked his way up to the number two spot behind Kevin Thomas. He's big enough to play safety, but the big question is whether or not he can stay healthy after suffering major knee problems in high school and missing last year with a sports hernia.
- S Antwine Perez, Fr.
It's not a question of if, but when. The 6-2, 205-pound true freshman has big-time speed, smarts and playmaking ability. He graduated a semester early from high school to prepare with the team and is destined to take over one of the starting safety spots soon. If you're looking for the replacement for Darnell Bing, here he is.
- SS Brandon Ting, Sr. - 12 tackles, 1 interception, 1 broken up pass
Ting was a decent reserve over the last few years, but he quit the team the team after testing positive for using steroids.
- SS/FS Taylor Mays, Fr.
One of the nation's top recruits, the 6-3, 220-pound Mays has sprinter's speed and next level ball skills. He'll be in the hunt for the starting free safety job right away this fall.

Special Teams
USC plugs in talent as well as anyone, and that counts for kicker as Mario Danelo came up with a terrific season replacing all-star Ryan Killeen. Now the question becomes whether or not Taylor Odegard or Troy Van Blarcom can adequately replace punter Tom Malone and whether or not Van Blarcom will beat out Danelo at placekicker. Of course, the biggest concern on the USC special teams is over the kick return game needing to replace Reggie Bush. Hershel Dennis, Cary Harris and Ryan Ting will try out for the duties, but the likely returners will come from the incoming freshman class with Kenny Ashley, Emmanuel Moody and C.J. Gable all fast enough to be effective. Ting won the starting punt return job out of spring ball.
The key to the unit: Get more out of a punting game that netted a mere 29 yards per kick last year and find an adequate replacement for Reggie Bush on returns.
Special Teams Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Mario Danelo, Jr. - 11-12 FGs, 83-86 extra points
Danelo was one of the X factors going into last season and he ended up coming through better than anyone could've hoped. The son of former New York Giant kicker Joe Danelo hit a Pac 10 record 83 extra points and showed off decent range with a 43-yard boot against Texas. He doesn't have a live leg, but he doesn't miss his midrange field goals. Anything from 40 yards and in should be all but automatic.
- P Taylor Odegard, Soph. - 1 punt, 38 yards
Odegard has to replace long time star Tom Malone, who had a strangely bad season. The walk-on has one kick worth of experience and will be pushed hard for the job all off-season by Troy Van Blarcom.

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