The USC defensive line heads into the season with plenty of uncertainty after Devon Kennard tore his pectoral 10 days ago. Going into camp, the idea by most was that the void left by Kennard at left defensive end would be filled by Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams or Greg Townsend Jr. However, on the opening night of USC’s fall camp at Howard Jones Field, Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron switched things up by swapping Williams and J.R. Tavai, putting the former at tackle and the latter at defensive end.
Tavai(right, upper left), a sophomore, played in parts of seven games last season, making four tackles. He was expected to compete for the starting job at nose guard along with redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods. However, with the swap, Tavai found himself splitting reps with JuCo transfer Morgan Breslin at defensive end, opposite of Wes Horton.
Physically, it’s a move that makes sense for the Trojans. At 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Tavai is undersized for a tackle, considering that he gives up 40 pounds to Woods, 20 to Cody Temple and 10 to George Uko. Williams graduated high school at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, and can only get bigger. He has a frame that is similar, yet thicker than former Trojan Kyle Moore from seasons past, who played end.
That versatility in size can be seen in Williams, as he lined up at the three-technique on Monday night, not the nose guard spot. While George Uko is the incumbent starter, it doesn’t hurt to throw Williams into the fire at the three-gap and see how he can use his raw skills as a pass rusher on the interior of the line, which is the skill set that defines that role.
Going into camp, the left end and nose tackle spots were to be the biggest position battles up for grabs, and now with the changes, the battles change significantly, with Breslin vs. Tavai now billed as the featured battle at defensive end, at least after one day of practice.
What’s it mean for Antwaun Woods at nose guard? Well, at least for one night, he gained that much more confidence.