2007 USC Preview
2007 USC Offense Preview
2007 USC Depth
2006 CFN USC
need to know:
The Trojan offense is good. The Trojan defense is scary good.
Backed by a Who’s Who of future first-day NFL Draft choices, USC
is ready to unleash the nastiest and stingiest unit of the Pete
Carroll era. Led by Sedrick Ellis at the nose, Keith Rivers at
middle linebacker, and Terrell Thomas at cornerback, the Trojans
boast seven players capable of making a run at All-America
honors in 2007. Yeah, a few more sacks and takeaways would be
nice, but this is as close to a flawless unit that there is in
the country. From front to back, they’re aggressive,
experienced and fast enough to create a swarming effect on the
ball carrier. Although the Trojans will give up yards to teams
playing from behind, scoring meaningful points on them in the
first three quarters is going to be a year-long nightmare.
Tackles: Keith Rivers, 85
Sacks: Brian Cushing, Sedrick Ellis, 4.5
Interceptions: Taylor Mays, 3
Star of the
Senior DT Sedrick Ellis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Taylor Mays
Best pro prospect: Ellis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ellis 2) Senior LB
Keith Rivers 3) CB Terrell Thomas
Strength of the defense: The back seven, rush defense,
Weakness of the defense: Sacks
When tackle Sedrick Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson
opted to forego the NFL Draft and return for their senior
seasons, USC instantly maintained its status as one of the elite
defensive lines in the nation. Ellis is the premier interior
lineman in the Pac-10, an explosive and disruptive force that
plays with great leverage and has made Trojan fans forget Mike
Patterson. He had 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 4.5
sacks last year, which don’t do justice to his importance to the
defense. While Jackson is coming off a woefully disappointing
season that took him nine games to register a sack, he has the
size and speed off the edge to make 2006 a distant memory. With
a fat signing bonus at stake, the 6-5, 265-pounder now has the
motivation to make a salary run with a rebound season in 2007.
Filling out the front four will be a couple of juniors, tackle
Fili Moala and end Kyle Moore. More of a space-eater
at 6-4 and 300 pounds, Moala doesn’t get penetration like Ellis,
but is quickly becoming one of the better run defenders in the
Pac-10. He started ten games in 2006, making 20 tackles and
seven tackles for loss, setting the stage for a strong second
half to his Trojan career. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, Moore has the
physical gifts to dominate at this level, but has yet to even
approach his enormous potential. He saw limited action in the
3-4 last season, but should erupt this year, particularly with
Jackson garnering so much attention at the opposite end.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Averell
Spicer will back up Ellis this season, but by 2008, could be
the next big thing in a Trojan nose tackle. A big-time recruit
from 2005, he’s beefed up to 6-2 and 295 pounds, but hasn’t lost
the quick feet and good moves that made him a highly-coveted
defensive end in high school.
Now that senior Chris Barrett has been declared academically
ineligible, sophomore Alex Parsons is being asked to back
up Moala at tackle. Undersized at 6-4 and 260 pounds, he’s a
meat-and-potatoes battler that earned his first letter in 2006
on special teams and should get more reps on defense this year.
USC’s most dependable and experienced second team end is Alex
Morrow, a fifth-year senior that’s underachieved since
arriving as a can’t-miss recruit, but still brings value to the
unit. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, he’s the defense’s biggest end,
and a viable option for the staff, especially on obvious running
Watch Out For… incoming freshman Everson
Griffen. While it’s unlikely Griffen can beat out Moore for
a starting job, he clearly has the talent to win a spot on the
second team. At 6-4 and 265 pounds, the nation’s best prep end
has the speed off the edge to be a smash hit early in his
Strength: Run defense. With three starters back,
expect a repeat of last season, when the Trojans finished No. 9
nationally against the run, and allowed just three rushing
touchdowns over the final ten games of 2006.
Weakness: Getting to the quarterback. For all the
talent housed in Troy, shouldn’t USC bag a few more sacks,
especially from the ends? It’s up to Jackson to rebound from
last year, and help open things up for Moore and the rest of the
Outlook: Arguably the nation’s toughest defensive
line will set the tone for the entire defense, winning the
battle for the line of scrimmage and clamping down on every
opponent intent on establishing a ground game. Sedrick Ellis and
Lawrence Jackson are All-America caliber playmakers to work
around, while Fili Moala is an unsung rock on the inside who'll
swallow everything up.
If USC doesn’t have the nation’s best linebacking corps, it has one of
the top three. Led by senior Keith Rivers on the weakside, all
three starters have All-America potential and NFL futures. Rivers is
arguably the country’s top outside linebacker, a 6-3 and 230-pounder
that pursues well in all directions, including on blitzes, and is a
standout in pass defense. Last year’s team leader in tackles with 85
would have been a high draft choice in 2008 had he foregone his final
year of eligibility.
On the inside is junior Rey Maualuga, a 6-3, 250-pound freight
train that intimidates with his intensity and bone-jarring hits.
Entering his second season as the starter, he plays with reckless
abandon and has impeccable instincts for the position. Few college
defenders provide the pop he does, finishing second on the team with 78
Replacing Dallas Sartz on the strongside will be junior Brian Cushing,
who started in 2006 as a stand-up defensive end in the old 3-4 defense.
The defensive MVP of January’s Rose Bowl led the Trojans in 2006 with
13.5 tackles for loss, showing off a tenacity and strength at the point
of contact that make him a natural to return to his original spot on the
Projected Top Reserves: At weakside, Rivers’ understudy
will again be junior Kaluka Maiava, a two-time letterman that had
34 tackles a year ago. While he doesn’t look the part at 6-0 and 225
pounds, he displays a knack for being around the ball and is one of
USC’s most accomplished special teams players.
In the middle is fifth-year senior Thomas Williams, a versatile
veteran of 36 games that can play strongside, and even filled in at
fullback in 2006. A punishing hitter at 6-3 and 240 pounds, he’s also
one of the emotional and vocal leaders of the defense.
Former walk-on Clay Matthews has settled in nicely as Cushing’s
backup at strongside, making 15 tackles and sharing Special Teams Player
of the Year honors with Maiava last year. Now a junior, he’s got
surprising speed and the confidence of the coaching staff to be more
than just a spot player.
Watch Out For… this unit to spur a return to the days when
USC perennially ranked among the nation’s best defenses in takeaways.
The Trojans created a mere 22 turnovers in 2006, well below their
standards, but with Rivers, Maualuga and Cushing lighting up opponents,
look for that total to skyrocket this fall.
Strength: Range. Whether they’re blitzing or dropping
back into coverage, no one will be able to escape this highly
instinctive, aggressive and disruptive trio of linebackers.
Weakness: Overconfidence. It’s an absolute reach, but the
only obstacle facing the Trojan linebackers will be staying focused on
the task at hand, and not allowing the riches of the NFL or the calls
from agents to become distractions.
Outlook: Over the years, a ton of great linebackers have
done their apprenticeship at USC, but this group has a chance to be the
best ever. Three NFL-ready players at their respective positions,
Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, and Brian Cushing, will
control game after game. The backup trio of Kaluka Maiava, Thomas
Williams and Clay Matthews could start at about 90 other places.
The Trojans biggest problem in the secondary? Keeping six experienced
and qualified players happy with only four starting jobs available.
Every Pac-10 school should have such a problem. All four starters
return, including sophomore free safety Taylor Mays, a budding
superstar after just one season on campus. Forced into action in 2006,
he responded with 62 tackles and a team-high three picks, en route to
Freshman All-American honors. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Mays hits like a
linebacker, yet is as fast as any Trojan, a rare blend that’s making the
next-level scouts drool.
At strong safety is junior Kevin Ellison, who made 64
tackles, six tackles for loss and five pass breakups in his first season
as a starter. A quick study that’s rarely out of position, he’s a
220-pound thumper and a fine open-field tackler.
Manning the corners for a second straight year will be senior Terrell
Thomas and junior Cary Harris. Thomas is the Trojans’ best
cover man, and an All-Pac-10 second teamer who led the defense with 12
broken up passes. Tall and very quick on his breaks, he showed no ill
effects last year from an ACL tear that prematurely ended his 2005
Harris is a wiry 6-1 and 180-pound defender that’s coming along nicely,
making 48 tackles and breaking up three passes in his first year as a
starter in 2006. Clocked in the 4.3 range, he has tremendous speed, but
needs to make more big plays this year when opposing quarterbacks opt to
avoid Thomas and pick on him.
Projected Top Reserves: If Mays is No. 1 at free safety,
junior Josh Pinkard is No. 1A. A starter since the mid-point of
2005, and arguably USC’s best defensive back heading into last year, he
tore knee ligaments in the opener, missing the entire season. Before
the injury, he was one of the fastest Trojans in a sturdy, 6-1 and
215-pound package. If Pinkard, who can also play cornerback, regains
the speed and flexibility he had before the injury, it’ll give the
Trojans a scary amount of talent at safety.
Behind Ellison at strong safety is junior Mozique McCurtis, a
former junior college transfer who was used as a cornerback and nickel
back at times last season. At 6-1 and 225 pounds, he’s a versatile big
hitter that can also contribute when the ball is in the air.
The primary depth at cornerback will come from junior Kevin Thomas
and sophomore Shareece Wright. Thomas has the size, speed and
experience to be a starter, but has been dogged by a variety of injuries
throughout his career. He had ankle surgery following the season,
missing the spring to recover.
Wright will spend the upcoming season preparing as if he’ll be a starter
in 2008. He got his feet wet last season, showing good quickness and
leaping ability making 15 tackles, and should get even more playing time
during the upcoming season.
Watch Out For… Mays. A little over a year removed from
high school, he’s on the tarmac and preparing for a serious career
lift-off. With an unheard-of combination of size and speed, he’s the
next coming of current Washington Redskin Pro Bowler Sean Taylor.
Strength: The safeties. Assuming Pinkard can return
intact from last September’s knee injury, the Trojans will boast three
next level safeties capable of starting and contending for First Team
Weakness: Durability. The depth in the secondary is
fantastic, but only if everyone stays healthy. Within just the past 12
months, Ellison, Harris, Thomas, Pinkard, and free safety Will Harris
have undergone some type of surgery to repair an injury.
Outlook: Last season’s Pac-10-best pass defense will be
even stingier this season, adding more picks and fumble recoveries to an
already impressive stat sheet. This is an NFL caliber secondary with
several players certain to make a whole bunch of money at the next
The tragic death of Mario Danelo in January has unexpectedly catapulted
junior David Buehler into the role of USC’s primary placekicker
and kickoff man. A terrific all-around athlete, he has a huge leg, but
zero track record at consistently making kicks the way Danelo did for
two seasons. In his only attempt of 2006, Buehler nailed a 49-yarder
against Cal, the longest by a Trojan in eight years.
Former walk-on and junior college transfer Greg Woidneck is back
to handle the punting chores. He was awful in his first season with the
program, averaging a Pac-10-worst 38.2 yards a punt, and leaving plenty
of room for improvement this fall.
Exciting sophomore C.J. Gable is back to handle kickoff returns
after finishing second in the Pac-10 and 15th nationally with
an average of 27 yards a return. Also returning to field punts is
senior Desmond Reed, but a meager average of 5.4 yards in 2006
leaves his job open when the team reconvenes this summer.
Watch Out For… Buehler to flatten some unsuspecting kick
returner this fall. Not your typical kicker at 6-2 and 225 pounds, he
also worked out last season at fullback and safety, and will be itching
to pummel some 180-pounder with an eye on the end zone.
Strength: Gable. He showed flashes as a true freshman of
being a bona fide weapon with big play potential as the Trojans’ primary
Weakness: The kickers. The gap between the ultra-steady
Danelo and Buehler will prove to be wide, and Woidneck showed very
little in 2006 to get excited about.
Outlook: The special teams unit, particularly the two
kickers, is the weakest link in USC’s armor. Will it cost the Trojans a
game in 2007? By building big cushions, Pete Carroll hopes not to test
that question during the season.