A new football season is right around the corner, so as USC gets ready to open fall camp on Monday, it's time to get re-acquainted with the 2007 Trojans. You've all heard the old adage "Defense Wins Championships" so let's first take a look at the defense. This season's USC Defense is expected to rank near the top of every statistical category as the #1 ranked Trojans return 10 starters from a unit that was pretty darn good last season. The emphasis this year will be on creating turnovers and to generate big plays that swing a game's momentum. USC definitely has all the pieces needed to become one of the best defenses in the country, but there are still a few questions that can only be answered through fall camp. Here's what I think Pete Carroll and his staff need to address in the next few weeks...
What is known: LDE Lawrence Jackson, NT Sedrick Ellis, and DT Fili Moala, all returning starters, have solidified themselves on the first team unit and are in no apparent danger of losing their jobs. They form the core of what is the best defensive line in college football, and will thrive off of each other this season.
Fall Questions: (1) Just how good is DE Everson Griffen? I am really high on Kyle Moore, the projected starter at RDE, who had a great spring and should be a very serviceable starter for the Trojans. If Griffen can play himself into the rotation, or even earn a starting spot, then I will feel really good about our D-Ends.
(2) Who will step up at defensive tackle? Fall camp will allow the coaches to evaluate the young tackles that are being counted on to provide depth up the middle. Guys like Averell Spicer (R-So.), Alex Parsons (R-Fr.), and incoming freshman DaJohn Harris will all get a chance to show what they got.
What is known: The starters are Rey Maualuga (MLB), Keith Rivers (WLB), and Brian Cushing (SLB). Senior Thomas Williams, who is a versatile, reliable veteran that can play all 3 LB positons, returns as the top backup. Maualuga and Rivers are two of the best in the country at their position and will be 1st Round picks when they enter the NFL Draft. Cushing returns to his preferred position of strong-side linebacker after playing the "elephant" position last season...
Fall Questions: (1) How well can Cushing play the strong-side LB spot? He played really well in that hybrid DE/OLB role towards the end of last season (especially vs. Michigan), but he struggled mightily during the 1st half of the season. I realize he was only a sophomore, but it took a while for him to grasp his new position. It raises some questions as to how quickly he can pick things up and learn a new role as he is once again asked to play a different position than the year before. The fact that he missed most of the spring due to injuries, and the quality reps that come with practicing, further illustrates my point that there is a little bit of uncertainty at SLB.
(2) Will freshman LB Chris Galippo have an immediate impact this season? It's not likely that he'll crack the starting line-up at all this season, but it'll be interesting to see him and Luthur Brown battle it out for the #2 MLB spot.
What is known: All 5 players who started a game last season return (CB Terrell Thomas, CB Cary Harris, FS Taylor Mays, SS Kevin Ellison, S/CB Josh Pinkard), but only 4 of them will start. For the moment, Pinkard is the odd man out, but he was the leader of the Trojan secondary before suffering a season ending knee injury in last year's opener. Terrell Thomas and Kevin Ellison are probably the only guys who aren't looking over their shoulders.
Fall Questions: (1) Where will Pinkard play? He started at corner in 2005, so maybe he can take over Cary's spot if Carroll wants to put his best players on the field, but maybe he take back his starting free safety spot from last year's freshman All-American Taylor Mays.
(2) Injuries...how will the players returning from injuries hold up? Kevin Thomas, T. Thomas, K. Ellison, and J. Pinkard were all kept out of practice for most or all of the spring.
The offensive preview will be posted on Monday morning.