It has been a few years since I have been excited about the Trojans defense but I am anxiously awaiting the 2012 iteration of this unit. I believe in the old adage that defense wins championships and we were spoiled during the Pete Carroll era with championship defenses. With Monte Kiffin, a defensive genius, taking over as defensive coordinator a few years back I believed that the defense wouldn’t skip a beat. However, the defense was young, inexperienced, and not allowed to develop that physical edge with contact reps being limited to avoid injuries due to NCAA sanctions.
The defense showed many signs of turning the corner last season and should be hitting on all cylinders with 3 years in the same system and players in place to get the job done within this scheme. So who am I looking at to be standouts or MVPS of the defense this year?
Senior safety T. J. McDonald will be a three year starting safety once the season begins. He is on everyone’s pre-season All-America list as well as a candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award and the Lott Trophy. McDonald has great range; he is able to cover lots of ground in pass coverage or come up to give the ball carrier a slobber knocker hit. The QB’s pre-snap reads better include identifying where #7 is on the field. With his physical and mental ability, he most certainly will be a first round pick in next year’s draft and the first safety to come off the board.
True sophomore Lamar Dawson is another player to keep an eye on for 2012. As the latest member of Club 55, Dawson has all sorts of expectations on him. Dawson is a physical player with the ability to play sideline to sideline. After starting the last 4 games of 2011, he is set to make a name for himself as the full time starter now that he has a better grasp for the defense and his role in it. Playing the Mike in Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense, he will be in the middle of the action on most plays. He will be responsible for stuffing ball carriers in the hole and dropping 15-20 yards down the field in pass coverage. Wherever the ball is, expect Dawson to be their too.
A potential sleeper for defensive MVP, if he can fend off Greg Townsend Jr. and Morgan Breslin, is Wes Horton. Horton has a great frame and is very athletic. He does an excellent job using his hands and if he can keep his motor in 5th gear he could have a monster year in the pass happy Pac-12. With Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez bringing their versions of the spread to the conference the ball should be in the air a lot. Horton can get into a sprinter stance and pin his ears back to get after the quarterback. He is fully capable of double digit sacks if he stays engaged. With Devon Kennard going down, it extremely important that Horton pick up the slack.