USC Football Spring Camp Review: Defensive line finds its depth

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football’s defense line proved that its newfound depth isn’t just more bodies this Spring Camp. The rise of Jay Tufele and company is encouraging.

Among the more encouraging signs for USC Football during Spring Camp was the emergence of an increasingly capable defensive front.

Having struggled with depth in the trenches for years, the Trojans appear to have finally filled the cupboard.

Here’s how things worked out for the defensive line this spring…

Roster Rundown

Returning (8):Malik Dorton, RS-Sr.*Christian Rector, RS-Jr.Caleb Tremblay, Jr.Liam Jimmons, RS-So.*Brandon Pili, So.Marlon Tuipulotu, RS-Fr.Jay Tufele, RS-Fr.Jacob Lichtenstein, RS-Fr.

Fall Enrollees (1):Trevor Trout, Fr.

*Returning starter

Going into Spring Camp, it appeared that USC’s defensive line would have much improved depth. But before the pads came on, it wasn’t clear if that depth would simply include more bodies or actual viable contributors.

Now that camp is over, we have a better handle on just how many of the Trojan defensive linemen can be depended upon in live action. And it’s good news.

Brandon Pili anchored the line at nose tackle capably before injury took him out of the lineup for a few days. When Pili went down, Jay Tufele proved that his encouraging signs early in camp weren’t just a mirage. The redshirt freshman looked every bit the top-line recruit he’d been projected as coming out of high school.

It gets better too, because Pili and Tufele are far from USC’s only options on the line. Malik Dorton went through his final spring as the wily veteran of the group, maintaining first team reps regularly. Liam Jimmons also seemed to add some pounds this spring, though he’ll likely remain a reserve option.

At defensive end, Christian Rector still has the look of a devastating third down pass rusher with the added versatility of moving to outside linebacker when defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants a bigger front.

The biggest change for USC’s defensive line this year may indeed be versatility in general. With more capable players at his disposal, Pendergast should have the option to mix up the lineup based on matchups.

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This spring, the Trojans were able to switch seamlessly between combinations of two and three lineman with different body shapes and skillsets. Pili and Tufele functioned as a jumbo pair while Dorton, Pili and Rector could form a more traditional three-man front as needed.

Biggest Winner

It’s Tufele’s progress which should encourage fans the most. Of all of USC’s linemen, he had the most consistent and explosive spring, whether lined up at nose tackle or defensive tackle. He used his size to stand his ground against the rushing attack while using his quickness to attack the quarterback on passing plays.

The Trojans have now reached a point where the trio of highly-touted 2017 defensive line prospects are all on the cusp of truly bolstering USC in the trenches. Tufele and Pili made their case this spring. Now all that’s left is to see Marlon Tuipulotu return to the field after his season-ending back injury from last year.

Biggest Disappointment

With junior college transfer Caleb Tremblay enrolling early, it would have been extremely encouraging to see him hit the ground running. Disappointingly, it was a generally quiet spring for the four-star.

TRENDING: Five Unanswered Questions from Spring Camp

Physically at least, Tremblay looks the part. He is listed at 275 pounds but appears much closer to 285.

It’s reasonable to give Tremblay time to learn USC’s system. Here’s hoping he shines in the fall.