USC depth chart: Breaking down the Trojan defensive line roster
The USC depth chart is bolstered by a defensive line with nearly everyone back.
The Trojan defensive line was supposed to be the strength of the USC depth chart on defense in 2019. In some ways it was. In others, there was plenty left to be desired.
The unit as a whole was less than the sum of their parts, especially when you consider the ability of Jay Tufele, the presence of Marlon Tuipulotu and the potential of Brandon Pili.
But those three won’t always be at the head of the pecking order in the trenches, so it’s worth looking at what lies beneath.
USC depth chart on the defensive line:
Without a Spring Camp to provide real first-hand understanding of Todd Orlando’s defensive scheme as well as Vic So’oto’s preferences as defensive line coach, these are best guesses.
Last year’s USC depth chart hasn’t changed much, losing only Christian Rector at defensive end. Another adjustment involves movement for Drake Jackson, who we have to assume will pull double-duty as an outside linebacker and defensive end.
Defensive Tackle:Jay TufeleJacob LichtensteinStanley Ta’ufo’ouKobe PepeTuli Tuipulotu
Jay Tufele tops the ticket at defensive tackle (or defensive end, if Orlando opts to use the same naming conventions as he did at Texas). He should be looking for a major breakout campaign. With first-round buzz already following him into the season, it shouldn’t be asking too much for some All-American buzz as well.
CHECK OUT: Tufele features in draft rankings
Jacob Lichtenstein is one of the more intriguing figures in the trenches. He made two starts in 2018 and showed some real promise at the tail end of that season. However, he had offseason knee surgery and missed the 2019 season. He had another surgery following the campaign for a sports hernia. A healthy Lichtenstein could be a visible member of the rotation.
Stanley Ta’ufo’ou has a year head start on incoming freshmen Kobe Pepe and Tuli Tuipulotu. Expect the latter two to redshirt, but that doesn’t mean one couldn’t see some real action as a freshman. Pepe is one with particular potential to contribute right away if his Fall Camp progresses quickly enough.
Nose Tackle:Marlon Tuipulotu ORBrandon PiliDe’Jon Benton ORTrevor TroutJamar Sekona
Marlon Tuipulotu and Brandon Pili technically shared an OR between their names in 2019, it was Tuipulotu who got the 12 starts in all 12 games he played while Pili came off the bench as a much-used backup. Don’t expect much to change in 2020. The big question for both is how far they can take their game at this veteran stage of their career.
Last year, Tuipulotu had six tackles for loss, a number he can absolutely build on. Pili only had 18 tackles, but five of those were for a loss. The former could use the other’s dynamism. The latter could use the other’s reliability.
MORE: Predicting USC’s two-deep for 2020
De’Jon Benton took a redshirt in 2019, but saw action in three games and performed well in practice. It’ll be a battle between him and Trevor Trout for who will be the first option behind Tuipulotu and Pili. Trout was slowed by injury during his redshirt freshman season. He missed most of Spring Camp and only saw action in two games. Coming off wrist surgery earlier this year, it’s simply hard to project how much of a contender in that battle he will be.
New arrival Jamar Sekona could work his way into that conversation, though a redshirt seems likely.
Defensive End:Drake JacksonCaleb TremblayConnor Murphy ORNick Figueroa
Drake Jackson should take the field on every play he’s available for. Some of those plays may be at defensive end, the majority may be at outside linebacker. What about when Jackson isn’t at end?
Caleb Tremblay is a solid first choice to take on that role. The redshirt senior maintained a part in the rotation and is likely to see even more action with Rector no longer available.
Connor Murphy and Nick Figueroa could find themselves used across the defensive line. Both have spent time at defensive tackle in the past. Both are also looking to end their Trojan careers with a bang.