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.
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
3) LB Keith Rivers
Strength of the defense: Linebackers
Weakness of the defense:
Experience on the 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
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- FS Josh Pinkard, Jr. - 54 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up
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
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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
- 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.