USC football Spring Camp notes: Defensive line trimmed down, playing up (3/21)

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

USC football’s fifth day of Spring Camp featured live tackling, which gave the defensive line a chance to show off their slimmed-down athleticism.

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Thursday wasn’t the first day of full pads practice for USC football this Spring Camp, but it was the first time the Trojans really got to let loose and play physical. That’s because live tackling was the order of the day, for some segments at least.

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The energy of practice was noticeably amped up as battles in 11-on-11 took on an extra physical element. The defense was particularly appreciative of the chance to hit people, as cornerback Briton Allen and linebacker Palaie Gaoteote showed with big impacts.

No unit benefited more from the shackles coming off than the defensive front. Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele were outstanding in run defense while Nick Figueroa and Connor Murphy both made big plays off the edge.

It was a day which showed just how far the line has come under the tutelage of new defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a.

The secret? It’s all about weight.

For some players, gaining has been the challenge. For Murphy, who won the day for the defense with a batted ball on the final rep, Kauha’aha’a emphasized a goal weight, which the redshirt junior is now two pounds above.

For others, particularly the defensive tackles, Kauha’aha’a’s approach has been different. He wants them to lose weight.

Brandon Pili has slimmed down, but still has some pounds to drop. Tuipulotu is right at his target weight, but could stand to lose a bit more. Tufele is down to 305 and carries it well.

That may seem counterproductive for a defensive front which has been pushed around at times, but the defensive line coach is keen to emphasize speed and quickness off the line, taking better advantage of the athleticism of his players.

Players who are not strong enough need the weight to help stand their ground, Kauha’aha’a said. That’s not a worry with this group.

“These Polynesian kids, they’re strong as oxes, so they’ll be alright,” Kauha’aha’ said.

It’s made a difference so far at least.

“I think the whole group is running around more,” Kauha’aha’a said, appreciating the urgency of the unit with a greater emphasis on pursuit to the ball.

On Thursday, the energy was visible from the linemen, along with the aggression.

Meanwhile, the refrain from yet another Trojan assistant was the importance of “fundamentals.”

In Week 1, defensive backs coach Greg Burns talked about starting from scratch with his unit. Kauha’aha’a used the same phrasing. He has focused on improving his players’ stance, their eye control, their technique coming off the ball, their footwork.

“The technical part of it, they’ll get it, they’re good athletes. Just working on the little things, that’s a huge emphasis,” Kauha’aha’a said.

Next up: Getting off blocks and violent escapes.

For now, Kauha’aha’a is pleased with where they’re at.

“We’ve got a bunch of good players here,” he said.