November 17, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins wide receiver Damien Thigpen (25) is stopped by USC Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard (10) at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
The linebackers the Trojans are touting could potentially be a significant bright spot on the defense in 2013. The Trojans have some quality linebackers and there is even some depth amongst the group despite scholarship restrictions.
Hayes Pullard (6’1″, 230 lbs.) will make the switch from the 4-3 Will linebacker to the 3-4 Mike backer. Playing next to Pullard in the Will backer position will most likely be Lamar Dawson (6’2″, 230 lbs.). So far Dawson has not lived up to his hype as a member of Club 55 and will need to deliver the goods this year.
Both Pullard and Dawson will be reliant on the nose tackle playing up front to slow the two uncovered offensive guards in front of them. They will need to violently attack the line of scrimmage to eliminate the natural bubbles created by the defensive formation. If successful, they will meet the ball carrier in the hole or defeat the block of the uncovered offensive guard and make the play. At the very least they need to cause a stalemate to string the play along and allow pursuit to make the play.
There needs to be an ability of both these linebackers to be outstanding blitzers and still have the ability to drop into coverage. With the expected aggressiveness of Clancy Prendergast’s defense, Pullard and Dawson will need to excel at both man and zone coverages, while having the ability to play sideline to sideline. These two have the tools to do all of the above.
Providing depth at both inside linebacker positions and possibly challenging Dawson for his spot will be sophomore Anthony Sarao (6’0″, 215 lbs.) and redshirt freshman Scott Starr (6’2″, 220 lbs.). Both are very capable players who showed great flashes in spot duty last season (Starr took a medical redshirt due to a neck injury after three games). Also with a shot to get into the mix will be true freshman Michael Hutchings (6’2″, 215 lbs.). While they all have a number of strengths, one thing that all these players lack is size. They will need to add another 10-15 pounds of muscle in order to hold up to the rigors of this position. There is also an inexperience factor, with Sarao being by far the most experienced of the reserves with one start to his credit.
With Morgan Breslin (6’2″, 250 lbs.) and Devon Kennard (6’3″, 260 lbs.) manning the outside linebacker positions, the Trojans seem to be in very good hands. Both are moving from hand in the dirt defensive ends to stand-up outside linebackers. There is no doubt that they are fully capable in getting after the quarterback but there will be a slight adjustment in learning how to maintain pad level and leverage coming from a standing position.
Breslin is coming off of a year where he turned in 13 sacks and a total of 19.5 tackles for loss. He was awarded with various honorable mention All-American nods and was named to the Pac-12 Second Team Defense. He most likely will be the one that will be sent after the quarterback on most snaps but he also showed the ability to drop into coverage last year on some zone blitz schemes implemented by the Trojans.
Kennard is coming off of a torn chest muscle that saw him to a medical redshirt in 2012. Ironically, it was that injury that opened the door for Breslin to have an opportunity to show his wares last season. Kennard’s experience as the starting middle linebacker in 2010 and a starting defensive end in 2011 should have prepared him well for this position change. He will have the versatility to blitz on one play, get after the quarterback on another, and then drop into coverage on another.
Teams will certainly need to game plan for both Breslin and Kennard this year.
Depth for these two positions will be solid as well. Veteran defensive end, Kevin Greene (6’4″, 255 lbs.) also makes the move to outside linebacker. Look for him to spell either of these positions to give them a blow. Also in the mix will be sophomore Jabari Ruffin (6’3″, 225 lbs.), senior Marquis Simmons (6’1″, 220 lbs.), and true freshman Quinton Powell (6’2″, 220 lbs.)
This group should be exciting to watch over the course of the 2013 season.