In this edition of our 2013 player report cards, we get our feet wet with the defense, starting at defensive end with lineman George Uko. A redshirt junior, Uko built upon a solid sophomore season and is still uncertain about whether or not he’ll return for a senior season.
By the numbers: 36 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick
What went right: USC’s switch from a 4-3 base to a multiple-D scheme allowed Uko to find himself in new roles. The 4-3 defensive tackle/three-technique played a lot of defensive end in the 5-2/hybrid 3-4, that saw players like Devon Kennard, Morgan Breslin and J.R. Tavai convert to hybrid outside linebackers. As a defensive end in the hybrid 3-4, was able to be effective in the Trojans’ overwhelming of opposing offensive lines. Uko’s best games came early, especially in the season opener against Hawaii, when he sacked quarterback Taylor Graham twice. Before getting ejected in the Las Vegas Bowl, Uko got his mitts on Fresno State’s first PAT of the game, to preserve an early 7-6 lead for the Trojans.
What went wrong: As with a few other USC defensive linemen, aggression has been a double-edged sword for Uko. The junior had multiple personal foul penalties in 2013, with the most outlandish being worthy of an ejection in the Las Vegas Bowl for bumping a referee. Though Uko’s adamant that the bump was inadvertent, there’s still a series of aggressive incidents after the whistles have blown.
What’s next: Uko’s one of several juniors that is going to test the waters of the NFL draft evaluation. NFLDraftScout.com currently has Uko as the 7th best defensive end in the draft, with a 3rd to 4th round draft projection. Is that good enough for Uko to jump? We’ll have to wait and see. With the expected hire of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Trojans are expected to fall into a 4-3 flex defense that would put Uko as a 4-3 defensive end, opposite of a stand-up end. Another might not hurt for his draft projection, and the Trojans will be hoping he returns, as USC has stockpiled interior defensive linemen and could use more versatile linemen like Uko in 2014.
Final Grade: B
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