Throughout the early Fall Camp session, the USC Defense has dominated the line of scrimmage, showcasing their greatest talent. While controlling the offense for most of 11-on-11 practice, the defense has established an aura of control and confidence in their abilities to beat you man-to-man.
“We like to fly around and play with great intensity every day,” said junior middle linebacker Lamar Dawson. “We are just trying to get pressure on the quarterback, force mistakes–maybe a bad pass a bad exchange–which will force turnovers.”
New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast is starting to put his magic on this new look defense, allowing his best athletes to fly around the field. With a secondary rotation six-deep at times, combined with an elite defensive line and experienced linebackers up the middle, the Trojans are flying to the football. H
ere are the best and brightest defensive players from the early portion of Fall Camp.
-DEFENSIVE TROJANS STANDOUTS-
BEST PLAYER: Morgan Breslin
Coming off an impressive campaign with double-digit sacks in his first season with Troy, Morgan Breslin only continues to get better this Fall Camp. The preseason Bednarik Award (top defensive player), Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player) and Lombardi Award (top lineman/linebacker) candidate continues to rush the quarterback like a tracking device of out hell.
What has been most impressive is his development against the run, utilizing a strong discipline and powerful hands to blow away opposing offensive tackles. Breslin has dominated the line of scrimmage in the early portions of camp, creating a Justin Smith affect on the entire defense by taking and breaking through double-team blocks. This special talent continues to work hard to earn every accolade this fall.
Most Impressive Moment- Blowing through Zach Banner at right tackle by utilizing his dramatic pop before blowing up a stretch-running play with a monstrous thud.
MOST IMPROVED: Michael Hutchings
Freshmen Michael Hutchings, the 2012 Cal-Hi Sports’ California Mr. Football, has started to break through as a major contributor to the defense. First receiving his chance by stepping in for Dawson and Hayes Pullard with the first-team defense, the elusive linebacker plays with an infectious spirit that spreads like wildfire throughout the locker room.
“For being able to not come in and not have a spring and be functioning, that is impressive,” said head coach Lane Kiffin. For a true freshmen to function and do it at mike linebacker, he will be successful one day. That’s because he prepared really well.” Praise such as this comes because of Hutching’s ability to find the football, already grabbing two interceptions in camp, along with leadership qualities highlighted his play-calling for the second team defense.
Most Impressive Moment- Chasing down the wide receiver from behind, Hutchings jumped in front of a sideline out route, notching an impressive interception that fired up his teammates.
BIGGEST DIFFERENCE MAKER: Devon Kennard
The Trojans’ defense looks much different this Fall Camp with Devon Kennard back on the defensive line following a season-ending injury last year. Playing alongside Morgan Breslin at the stand-up lineman in the 5-2 scheme, Kennard continues to wreak havoc on the Trojans’ slew of offensive tackles. “Devon would be up there if there was an MVP or something on the whole team so far,” said Kiffin, who has been extremely impressed by his pass-rushing abilities.
Now an active member of the first-team defense, Kennard provides a level of speed, power and athleticism that the defensive coaches love. He has already recorded a couple of nice snacks this Fall Camp, but more importantly he is showcasing his skills in coverage, making him a dual-purpose player. This type of impact will not only balance the defense, but provide Clancy Pendergast even more opportunities to blitz and drop guys like Kennard comfortably in coverage.
Most Impressive Moment- The Trojans were running a two-minute drill, trying to move the football with precision and efficiency when around the corner came Kennard, grabbing Cody Kessler from behind by spinning past Chad Wheeler and effectively halting the play.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Su’a Cravens
Freshmen Su’a Cravens has been one of the most talked about newcomers on this Trojan lineup, mostly because of his dual-purpose skill set and sky-high ceiling of potential. Early on in Fall Camp, Cravens has made plays all over the field, impressing his coaches and peers in the suddenly-loaded secondary.
Already in the mix for starting time, Cravens is one of six members of the secondary that expects to make a major impact this season. With an elite combination of speed and pop, Cravens reminds his peers of a smaller T.J. McDonald, good news for Trojan fans. Already ranked 10th on ESPN’s “Top 50 Breakout Players”, Trojan fans should not be the only ones jumping on the Cravens bandwagon.
Most Endearing Quote- “He has made an immediate impact with this roster,” said Kiffin after welcoming back his freshmen from injury. “Watching him from the Spring to now in Fall Camp, I have already seen a 100% improvement.
WILDCARD: Leonard Williams
While Kennard and Breslin may be the big-name lineman for this Trojan defense, Freshmen All-American Leonard Williams has cemented his place on the defensive line . Williams continues to showcase his power, blowing through double teams to make outstanding tackles in 11-on-11 drills as a nearly unstoppable force.
Williams may be battling minor shoulder pain, but embraces the challenge of carrying the bulk of the defense on his back.
“The coaches are expecting me to be more of a leader this year,” he said. “I feel like I have gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster, but I have stayed the same weight.” This transformation can be felt throughout the Trojan defense; the coaches continue to praise Williams for his high-tempo motor and all business mentality.
Most Impressive Moment- On the first day of practice, Williams bounced off a double-team block from John Martinez and Marcus Martin, pummeling Justin Davis in the backfield.
THE BIG QUESTION MARK: Kenny Bigelow
As one of the seven standout freshmen arriving on campus during Spring Football, Kenny Bigelow was the largest and most menacing of the bunch. Playing with the second-string line this week, Bigelow’s large frame and quick hands give him a budding skill set that will shine in the coming years.
Throughout most of Fall Camp, Bigelow has been the talk of the town for the defensive lineman. Coach Orgeron, the fiery, loud defensive line coach stays on top of him, but more because he sees potential than struggle.
“You know, in the midst of all the yelling he is only doing it to make you better, he’s pushing for excellence.” said Bigelow about playing for Coach O. ”I was ready to be a Trojan no matter what they brought in.”
Expect the freshmen to continue sweating through his shirt profusely at Fall Camp, putting in the grind to succeed with the Trojans moving forward. Just to nitpick a tad, Bigelow still makes novice mistakes in terms of gap coverage and positioning, but things will certainly improve with experience.
Check out the top sights and sounds from the offense in Week One, here.