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USC Football Preview: Defensive Line Will Be Trojans' Biggest Strength

Patrick Crawley |
September 2, 2010 | 4:08 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

USC’s defensive linemen may not be the most well known Trojans, but they are the team’s biggest strength entering the 2010 season.

Names like Jurrell Casey, Armond Armstead, Nick Perry and DaJohn Harris are far from household – we all know Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley hold the most headline-generating juice around here. Nevertheless, the Trojans’ front four will be among the most feared in the nation; not to mention the catalyst for a much-needed increase in wins this season.

Led by Casey, a preseason All-American, and a reinvigorated Harris, the Trojans have been terrorizing Barkley and Co. for weeks in training camp. Hurried throws, pantomimed sacks and ill-advised interceptions have been commonplace thanks to Ed Orgeron’s pit bull-like defensive tackles. Granted, the Trojans are missing a number of offensive linemen to injury, but the play of the front four has been spectacular nonetheless. They apply David Bowie-level pressure on a regular basis.

Pressuring the quarterback is the key to any good defense, but it’s particularly important for the Trojans.

With so many young players in their secondary (Shareece Wright is the only starting defensive back older than a sophomore) and so many good quarterbacks in their conference (Andrew Luck of Stanford and Jake Locker of Washington both had quarterback ratings over 125 last season), the Trojans will be tested in the air early and often. The more pressure Casey and the guys can apply up front, the smoother the transition will be for Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling.

Given what the front four have shown in practice, and, in Perry and Casey’s case, what’s on their resume (13 sacks combined last season), Wright and his young charges can count on just that; especially against Hawaii, which lost four starting offensive linemen this season.

Ferocity is one of the defensive line’s best attributes (Orgeron-coached linemen are notorious for having fire in their bellies) but another of its advantages is flexibility. In true Orgeron fashion, the biggest strength of USC’s D-line is depth.

Even after Christian Tupou’s season-ending injury, the Trojans go two-deep with talent at nearly every defensive line position.
Behind Harris is Hebron Fangupo, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound behemoth. Behind Perry is 6-foot-5 sophomore Wes Horton, the likely starter against Hawaii on Thursday due to Perry’s recent knee injury. And behind Armstead is 6-foot-4 senior Derrick Simmons, a frequent contributor to USC along both the offensive and defensive line the past three seasons.

Fangupo and Horton have been particularly impressive in training camp, but any of the three can step in and the unit won’t miss a beat, which is really useful during long drives and third down situations.

With the offense out of sync and the heat on Kiffin growing hotter by the minute, the Trojans’ defensive line is the one constant on a team with the expectation of a No. 14 ranking suddenly fixed to its back.

They may not be the most well-known guys on the roster, but Orgeron’s crew will definitely be the most important part of the team as USC looks to rise back into the ranks of the elite in 2010.

To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read Neon Tommy's quarterback, running back, wide receiver and linebacker previews.



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