USC Fall Camp: “Hit ‘Em In the Mouth!”

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It’s amazing what an off-season of intensive, focused preparation and two weeks of Fall Camp can do.

For the USC Trojans, it meant emerging in the fall looking like a completely different team than the one that walked off the field at the Rose Bowl after a less than stellar defeat of UCLA.

This year’s squad looks hungry and poised for a breakout season in which they prove to themselves, fans, and potential recruits that last was an anomaly in what has been a decade of domination by the men of Troy. As mentioned before, there has been a variety of questions surrounding the Trojans and some of the major ones have been sufficiently answered.

Our defense had a series of productivity issues last season, but since then the coaching staff has simplified the defense, which has allowed the players to grasp it quicker and excel in their roles.

Former All Pac-10 selection Christian Tupou has fully recovered from his knee injury, and is back at Nose Tackle and ready to anchor the defensive line, where he’ll be wreaking havoc on O-Linemen and Quarterbacks alike. Furthermore, the return of Junior Devon Kennard (considered the top defensive end in his class) to the D-line has made it even more of a force to be reckoned with.

The combination of Kennard, redshirt Senior Wes Horton and redshirt Junior Nick Perry gives them the strength, quickness and rushing abilities to get after the quarterback, and “hit people in the mouth,” as Kennard said.

Though Kennard spent the first half of the summer preparing to start at middle linebacker, once he learned that he would be returning to his natural position he began altering his workout regiment to utilize both skill sets.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” Kennard said of returning to Defensive End, “But now I will be able to bring linebacker skills to D-End. I just want to utilize all my talents to be the best I can.”

Kennard hopes to be used much like Clay Matthews was used in years past, as an Elephant linebacker/end hybrid, where he would line up at defensive end in a 2 point stance like an outside linebacker. This will allow him to use his natural affinity for defensive end to create pressure in the pass game, as well as allowing him to utilize his linebacking experience in the running game.

Ultimately this makes him a more complete and explosive player, creating big play opportunities for himself and his teammates on a defense that has lacked such a playmaker recently.

As we all remember, the Trojan’s two-minute defense last season was subpar on a good day. According to Kennard though, fans can look forward to a defense that is prepared to lock it down. “The coaches really emphasized the two-minute defense in camp. I think we’ve really improved.”

On September 3rd, Trojan fans will get to judge for themselves just how reinforced the Great Wall of Troy is.

Offensively, Matt Barkley has a young, highly versatile running back corps at his disposal. Redshirt senior Curtis McNeal has been the story of the fall season thus far, but sophomore Dillon Baxter, redshirt freshmen DJ Morgan and freshman Amir Carlisle all provide different skill sets that make them integral parts of the Trojan offense no matter what the situation.

“Curtis can get the tough yards, Dillon is elusive, DJ can catch and is fast,” Amir Carlisle said, “It diversifies the offense, gives the ‘D’ more to stop. The more you can attack the ‘D’, the more effective you can be.”

Carlisle said that Running Backs Coach Kennedy Pola has been hard at work establishing his system, instilling a better work ethic, which has resulted in better, more productive practices for the corps.

Through the air, Trojan fans can expect exciting things from our arsenal of wide receivers.  With experienced players like redshirt senior Brandon Carswell, redshirt junior Brice Butler and phenom Robert Woods coupled with rookies Marquis Lee and George Farmer, the potential aerial assault from the men of Troy is sure to give nightmares to defensive coordinators and players alike.

Still though, there are a few that likely will not be answered until the season opener on September 3rd.

For starters, it is still not clear who will be the other starting cornerback, strong safety, or outside linebackers. Redshirt sophomore Torin Harris and redshirt junior Tony Burnett have emerged as the best candidates at corner, junior  Jawanza Starling and redshirt junior Drew McAllister are still battling for free safety, and redshirt senior Shane Horton and redshirt freshmen Dion Bailey may or may not be leading the pack of linebackers competing to start.

Whoever it is though, fans can take comfort in knowing that there will be enough depth behind those three positions to carry us through the season.

As the sunlight wanes each day, as the team continues to march fearlessly towards battle like modern day gladiators, and as we get ready for the first game in just under two weeks, we are reminded that we are the Trojan Nation, and that as Trojans our will to win, always and forever, is here to stay.

Let’s get it!