Where does Connor Murphy fit in USC football’s defense?

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

Connor Murphy is finding a role in USC football’s defense this Spring Camp by occupying multiple positions across the defensive line.

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Where does Connor Murphy fit in the USC football defense?

The question has followed the redshirt junior around since he first joined the Trojans in 2016 when he was a four-star weakside defensive end recruited to play USC’s Predator linebacker role. Even then, his 6-foot-7 frame was the topic of discussion. Was he too big for Predator? Would he be better suited to shift to the defensive line?

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For two seasons, Murphy’s contributions were limited, finally prompting that very move to the defensive line ahead of the 2018 season. He started the process of adding the pounds in the offseason, but keeping the weight on proved to be a challenge while injuries on the outside complicated his attempted position change. Ultimately, he took a redshirt season while playing in four games.

The 2019 campaign is set up for Murphy to finally find his place and make his mark.

He’s been helped by the tweaks to USC’s defense this year, preferencing bigger bodies on the edge—defensive ends rather than linebackers.

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“I think it suits me 100 percent better,” Murphy said.

If you watch practice, however, defensive end doesn’t quite do justice to the multiple jobs Murphy is filling for the Trojans as they deploy a variety of fronts.

So where exactly does he fit in?

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“It’s hard to pinpoint,” Murphy chuckled.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast explained it on Thursday. On first and second down, Murphy is being deployed as a three-technique interior lineman. There he can put his pass rushing gifts to use.

He’s also staying inside when USC goes to the new greyhound package, which includes the Predator linebacker. In that package, Pendergast likes the matchup of Murphy’s 6-foot-7 length going up against offensive guards.

When it comes to the base defense, Murphy is a strongside defensive end. He’s even seen reps at defensive tackle with a few players limited by injury.

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“He’s giving us versatility,” Pendergast said.

During Spring Camp practices, Murphy has done well to apply pressure on USC’s quarterbacks from the variety of positions he has taken, particularly when the Trojans have gone to live tackling on full pads days. His progress has not gone unnoticed.

“Connor has been one of our more improved players,” Pendergast said. “I’ve been really happy with him. The light’s come on for him.”

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Murphy himself is happy with where he stands in the defense as USC crosses the midway point in Spring Camp. He sees the change to defensive end as his future.

“If I want to go the next step to the league, which everyone does, I think that’s where I’m going to play at is defensive end,” he said.

He has a good player to model himself after in that role. His brother, Trent, is a defensive end for the Buffalo Bills. Playing for the Washington Redskins in 2016, he too transitioned from linebacker to defensive end, notching a career-high nine sacks in a rotational role.

“He’s only half an inch shorter than I am,” Murphy said of Trent. “We’re pretty much the same weight, so of course he’s going to be my twin and I’m going to try and replicate my game off of him.”

When it comes to the question of weight, defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a is pleased with what Murphy is currently carrying. He’s above his minimum target, but more wouldn’t go amiss.

“With a tall lengthy body like mind, it’s hard. You can only put on so much weight at a time,” Murphy said. “Right now I’m 268, I’m pushing for 270, so I’m just going to try to keep on growing as much as I can.”

In addition to bulking up, Murphy is focused on the primary job of a defensive end: setting the edge.

On Thursday, he stayed late after practice to do just that, getting extra work in on the bags. It’s just a matter of time to see how that work pays off.