USC Football Mailbag: Optimism for Trojans D-Line and More Q&A


Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s USC football mailbag, we take a look the Trojans’ senior-heavy defensive line, along with a query on Su’a Cravens’s positioning and even a bit of Ronda Rousey chatter.

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Plus, since Reign of Troy has turned into ‘Unis of Troy’ lately, it’s fitting to answer a fashion question from Pac-12 Media Days. Buckle up and let’s dig in on Mailbag Monday Tuesday.

Is there any reason for optimism along the defensive line? (Ayden Y.)

Sure there is. The defensive line returns five seniors that should play in the rotation, including three returning starters if you count Claude Pelon. Anytime you can bring back that kind of experience, you have to feel good about your line.

But obviously, they lose Leonard Williams. And rather than having Pelon and Delvon Simmons sharing a defensive tackle spot, they’re split at tackle and end. They also lose the benefit of having an experienced edge rusher like J.R. Tavai at rush end, if you want to consider that position part of the defensive line.

How do they replicate that lose production? It’s simple, they need Simmons to play to his potential as a former five-star recruit.

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

Su’a Cravens went all in on him at Pac-12 Media Days, saying he would have a monster year this season. If he does, the rest of the defensive line can fall into place without much pressure.

That helps not only a bevy of talented freshmen like Rasheem Green, but even seniors like Greg Townsend and Cody Temple who haven’t been fortunate enough to earn consistent playing time yet.

At the end of the day though, the optimism is this: (1) Hope Antwaun Woods stays healthy. (2) Look for an improved secondary to help the pass rush by locking up receivers and slowing down the passing game. (3) Rely on Delvon Simmons to be a leader.

If those things happen, the line could have a lot of success this season despite the somewhat low expectations.

If two of the freshmen linebackers show enough to stay on the field, would it be better to put Su’a Cravens back at safety? (Raleigh M.)

The short answer is yes, but it’s not a cut and dry thing that would lead to Cravens moving to safety in place of John Plattenburg, Leon McQuay or Chris Hawkins.

Rather, if Osa Masina and Cam Smith force the hand of the coaching staff for playing time, Cravens likely becomes even more of a hybrid defender than he already was going to be.

He moved around a lot in the spring, lining up over slot receivers split wide and even playing deep center field on occasion.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And that’s all in addition to the strongside linebacker role that he played last year.

In fall camp last year, Steve Sarkisian said that Cravens would play closer to the line as a linebacker against spread teams and then move into a deeper role against pro-sets. We saw a little bit of last year but not a total commitment to it.

If the freshmen help out the linebacker corps this season, or even if returning players like Olajuwon Tucker and Michael Hutchings force their way into the lineup, Cravens should get much more rope to move around.

Should Adoree’ Jackson play on offense and special teams now that USC have Iman Marshall and Ykili Ross? (GRod)

It shouldn’t be a cause and effect scenario because of Marshall and Ross, but more so that if the freshmen play well and start out quickly, they’ll give more leeway for Sarkisian to play Jackson in all three phases with more regularity.

He did it last year without the freshmen helping his cause, so he’ll likely do so this year regardless of how they play. Their presence just lessens his need at cornerback, assuming both players don’t move to safety

That said, Sarkisian told us at Pac-12 Media Days that they’re going to really watch his use this season with help of the Catapult GPS Tracking system.

Together with that and trainer Ivan Lewis, they should be able to gauge just how many plays he could be play on a game by game basis without overexerting himself or becoming ineffective.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Should Marshall’s timeline to play mirror Jackson’s, and he become regular in the cornerback rotation a month into the season, it’ll be interesting to see if Sarkisian leans towards a 50-50 split in terms of plays. In the spring, Jackson saw equal time on both offense and defense.

What do you think of those new polos Steve Sarkisian was wearing at Pac-12 Media Days? (Trojan J)

They were strange looking, eh? Not sure what the deal was with those, as they were grey with neon greenish yellow piping.

Well rest assured, they’re probably not going to be worn on gamedays. It’s a specially made team-issued Nike Golf shirt. Here’s the white version, which is sold at the bookstore for a cool $85.

As for what you could see on the sidelines? That would be this cardinal polo and this white polo.

Also, Sarkisian was seen in during last Wednesday’s ESPN car wash in a charcoal gray polo, which according to USC’s Bookstore, is a ‘pre-season polo’, whatever that means.

That too could be an option for Sark, as he wore a variety of tops last season including a blacked out camo hoody during the Holiday Bowl.

Which USC play would last the longest in a fight with Ronda Rousey? (JD)

Well, we’re definitely not one for men vs. women fighting. Even if Rousey might be unbeatable. But let’s just say the Spirit of Troy’s drum major, because I’m not sure she could wrestle him to the floor that quickly given all of the armor.

Got a question for next week’s mailbag? Tweet Michael at @MichaelCastFS or shoot him an email at

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