USC Football 2015: Previewing the Defensive Line


Replacing a defensive lynch pin is never an easy task. Despite that fact, the 2015 USC football team’s defensive line might possibly be in a much better position to move forward than most experts believe.

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The Men of Troy have five redshirt-seniors on the one unit which may determine whether or not the Trojans are able to make a run for the 2016 College Football Playoff.

Supplemented by a young, talented group of underclassmen, if able to remain healthy, the Trojan d-line has a chance to make a serious statement this upcoming season.

Projected starters Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon provide a tenacious versatility coupled with size, as both have filled in at multiple defensive line positions at one time or another.

Starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods brings that same tenacity and girth to the table, as he began his Trojan career as a defensive end.

Greg Townsend Jr and Cody Temple are the other redshirt seniors on the Trojan line, bringing the total to five.

Further bolstering the line while competing for playing time is redshirt freshman Malik Dorton, who moved over from outside linebacker.

Dec 27, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) is pressured by Southern California Trojans defensive tackle Claude Pelon (90) in the 2014 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Seeking to improve upon last season’s defensive totals — opponents averaged 133 rushing yards and 408 total yards per game — the Trojan’s first line of defense brings a collective experience to the table few teams are able to match.

Though health remains a factor, this group holds the potential to make to make the loudest statement in year two of coach Justin Wilcox’s defensive scheme.

Depth issues from sactions, which prevented this unit from fully realizing its potential a season ago, should be alleviated greatly, as the Trojans are largely healthy as summer camp approaches.

What We Learned In Spring:

The spring allowed the Trojans to fully heal, as well as implement new wrinkles, something the numbers would not allow just a season ago.

Woods, who tore a chest muscle while preparing for the 2014 Holiday Bowl, should be at full strength for fall camp.

Recovering from an ankle injury sustained last season, Greg Townsend Jr is also competing for a starting spot, yet should see significant playing time regardless, as long as he remains healthy.

The spring also saw offensive lineman Jordan Simmons working out with the defensive line, though no switch has as of yet been officially announced.

Battling injuries throughout his time as a Trojan, a move to the opposite side of the ball may benefit all parties involved, if Simmons remains healthy. A former five-star recruit at offensive tackle, the Trojans may have just gotten that much richer.

What Could Go Right?

Operating at full strength, the Trojans possess much more depth, with an ability to mix and match personnel for the various game situations, in the process creating mismatches, sending waves of fresh bodies at opposing offenses. Such luxuries were not afforded a season ago.

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

Expected to not only shoulder a muchbigger load, but to lead the charge against the prolific offenses the Pac 12 boasts, Woods, Pelon, and Simmons lead an aggressive Trojan defense in a quest for its first playoff berth.

Though inexperienced on the other side of the ball, a healthy Jordan Simmons, who’s been working out with theTrojan defense, gives a huge line another big and athletic body to possibly work into the rotation.

The success of the D-Line hinges largely on two factors, an ability to stay healthy, and contributions from a highly-rated incoming freshman class, even if those contributions are mostly on special teams at the onset.

Even if they do not challenge for starting jobs, true freshmen, Rasheem Green, Noah Jefferson, and Jacob Daniel enter summer camp looking to compete for snaps on a Trojan defensive line which is shaping up to be much deeper than many expected. The incoming freshman d-line class is rounded out by Kevin Scott and Christian Rector, who could also contribute.

What Could Go Wrong?

Though not quite as severe the topic of discussion it was a year ago, health will go a long ways towards deciding whether or not the Trojans are able to build upon the momentum already generated heading into the 2015 season, and capture a berth in the CFP.

The chest injury which prematurely ended the season for Antwaun Woods should no longer be an issue, yet the fact remains the Trojans are just an injury or two away from finding that a potential team strength has now become a liability.

Greg Townsend Jr was hampered during the spring, rehabbing a foot injury suffered last season. Any furthersetbacks could affect his ability to make significant strides this upcoming season.

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Projected Depth Chart:

  • DE: Claude Pelon, Greg Townsend Jr.
  • NT: Antwaun Woods, Cody Temple
  • DE: Delvon Simmons, Jordan Simmons

Overall Strength: 5/10

In a much better position than they were a season ago, the defensive line has an opportunity to silence the critics, many of whom feel the pass rush will suffer without Leonard Williams, who was drafted 6th overall in this year’s NFL Draft.

If the torn chest muscle is no longer an issue for Woods, Townsend Jr’s ankles remain healthy, and young additions help depth, the line has a chance to quietly become one of the stronger units on a talented Trojan squad.