The last time we saw junior Hayes Pullard out on defense he was all over the field, recording a team-high 16 tackles in route to a breakout 107-tackle season for the Trojans. Now entering his junior campaign, the Inglewood native is excited for the teams prospects under the direction of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
“Pendergrast brings that swagger that’s been missing,” said Pullard. “They simplified this defense for us to go out there and just play fast and play to the best of our abilities.”
Coming off a season ranking 11th nationally in tackles-for-loss and fourth in sacks, the next step of improvement lies in slowing down spread-option offenses of the future.
“We believe this new system, which will utilize an attacking style, will make us a better defense, as we really need to show improvement on this side of the ball,” said Lane Kiffin.
Embracing such a challenge is Pendergast, the former long-time California defensive coordinator who is now taking the reigns of the same position with USC.
The Trojans have completely switched from their traditional scheme to a flex look, featuring a “5-2 scheme” that will stretch the field sideline to sideline with athleticism.
“We just need to develop a brothership on this team,” Pullard noted about the Trojans work this year adjusting to the new 5-2 formation. “This connection with all the competition will grow each and every day.”
It all starts up front for this heralded unit with 2012 Hendricks Award finalist Morgan Breslin, Freshmen All-American defensive end Leonard Williams and returning starter defensive end George Uko.
“I believe we are going to continue to get better with our d-line going out there and attacking, with Coach Orgeron watching them and helping them get better,” said Pullard. “And with Clancy having our guys continue to be better each day, it’s going to also be helpful to us.”
While the defensive line will remain largely intact, the biggest change surrounding the Trojans defense lies in the back seven, especially in the secondary. Thanks to a healthy return of Devon Kennard (18 career starts) and the emergence of Marquis Simmons, a major shift in philosophy will take place this fall.
An 80-tackle starter from last season, Dion Bailey will be making a seamless transition back to his natural safety position, where he has yet to play at all in his college career. The move breaks up a strong bond for the Trojans linebacking core, something that definitely struck a chord with Pullard over the summer.
“It’s like we held each other together,” said Pullard about the last two seasons playing alongside Bailey and Lamar Dawson. “It kinda hurts. Now when someone misses a coverage you can look back and know your guy is behind you.”
In terms of the overall roster, the Trojans are in the midst of a wide-scale change in the secondary along with quarterback. Despite large expectations looming for Fall Camp, Pullard remains highly motivated and focused on the task at hand.
“We are using everything from last year as fuel to our energy,” Pullard proclaimed at Pac-12 Media Day.
Prospects for his third season at Troy look brighter than ever. Pullard has earned preseason watch list consideration for the Nagurski Award (Nat’l Defensive Player), Butkus Award (Top LB) and most notably the Rotary Lombardi Award.
“The linebacker corps is another veteran group for us,” said head coach Lane Kiffin. “Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson are high-quality, experienced linebackers.”
Among these veteran linebackers lies Pullard, the man with a composed personality and humble mindset to the game. As if the glorified defensive stalwart needed any more motivation, Pullard will be competing against Anthony Barr (Second Team All-American, First Team All-Pac 12 LB UCLA) for bragging rights as the best defensive player in Los Angeles.
“We have a new year, I’m gonna go out there and compete and try to prove everyone wrong,” said Pullard, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. With sights shifting towards camp, players can’t wait for the opportunity to strap up the pads and get started implementing the system. Along with “some heavy duty hitting” as Pullard declares.