The thin, but veteran Trojan defensive line must figure out how to replace Leonard Williams while waiting for reinforcements when USC football kicks off spring camp on March 3.
Returning starters: Antwaun Woods (Sr.*), Claude Pelon (Sr.), Delvon Simmons (Sr.*)Returning players: Cody Temple (Sr.*), Greg Townsend (Sr.*), Kenny Bigelow (So.*), Don Hill (Fr.*)Newcomers: NoneDepartures: Leonard Williams (Jr.)
The elephant no longer in the room — the big cat more accurately — is Leonard Williams, whose irreplaceable qualities need replacing on the USC defensive line.
The plus side for the Trojans is that they return a veteran group who will have all of spring to settle into new roles before numbers are replenished with a squadron of incoming freshman in the fall.
The accepted wisdom is that it will take a combination of Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons to lessen the blow of Williams loss.
The vacancy at defensive end means Pelon and Simmons will no longer trade off at the defensive tackle spot as they did in 2014. Especially with the thin numbers during spring, the two will likely take up positions on either side of the nose tackle.
Simmons ultimately started more games at tackle than Pelon did, though they went into every game week as co-starters.
The former was more productive in 2014 in terms of tackles, but Pelon was more active in the pass rush and getting into the backfield for tackles for loss.
Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive tackle Delvon Simmons (52) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
There are scenarios which could see either one slide into Williams’ end spot while the other stays at tackle. Their ultimate positioning is one of the big things to watch during spring as a whole.
One player who will look to throw a wrench in those scenarios is Greg Townsend Jr., who was Williams’ direct back up throughout 2014. He’d be a dark horse to overthrow either Pelon or Simmons in their pursuit of that starting job, but he has been slowed in consecutive spring camps with injury and this could be his chance to emerge.
At nose tackle, Antwaun Woods tore a pectoral muscle in December and underwent surgery which kept him out of the Holiday Bowl. Considering a similar injury to Devon Kennard, which he suffered just before the 2012 kicked off, kept him out until the next year, it is likely that Woods will not participate in spring ball.
In his place, Kenny Bigelow will get a chance to shine after missing the 2014 season with a torn ACL, assuming his recovery from that injury is far enough along.
Losing Bigelow during the summer last year was a major blow to the Trojans, who needed his presence to help spell Woods in the trenches.
Cody Temple is a name to watch during spring given the health concerns of Woods and Bigelow. Earning co-starting status with Simmons at nose tackle for the bowl game, Temple played in every game for USC in 2014 and a strong spring could see his involvement in the rotation increase.
Battle to watch: Townsend vs. Pelon/Simmons
Who has the most to gain? Townsend has battled injuries for almost the entirety of his career, but the former four-star recruit has a chance to move from perennial back-up to starter.
Who has the most to lose? Pelon came into USC as a junior college transfer with high expectations. He didn’t exactly match those expectations in 2014 and there freshman coming down the line could take a serious chunk of his playing time away if he takes a nap this spring.
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