USC’s defensive line is going to look very different from the unit that helped lead the 2008 Trojans to the nation’s No. 1 ranked scoring defense.
Instead of lining up tackle Fili Moala, a 2008 All-Pac-10 first team selection, and defensive ends Kyle Moore and Clay Matthews, the 2009 Trojans will turn to new faces and new leaders in the trenches to halt the opposition’s offensive attack.
The line’s only returning full-time starter from last season is junior Christian Tupou at nose tackle, although junior end Everson Griffen has basically had the experience of a starter. Tupou started 10 games alongside Moala, Moore and Matthews, and he knows firsthand that this year’s defensive line has some big shoes to fill after losing three linemen to the NFL draft.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” said Tupou, who recorded 12 tackles and one deflection in 2008. “We’re just a no-name defensive line, and we’re ready to get the job done. That’s where we stand now.”
Returning as defensive line coach after a 3-year stint coaching in the NFL is Jethro Franklin. The Fresno State graduate, who also coached the Trojans’ defensive line in 2005, said he returned to USC because he thinks an opportunity to be on a staff with coach Pete Carroll is too great to pass up.
A defensive line coach since 1991, Franklin has a lot of experience and wisdom to offer his players, and the linemen are happy to have him, said Griffen.
“The defensive line’s going good with Coach Franklin,” said Griffen, who recorded 18 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2008 and was named a starter out of spring camp. “It’s way different. We’re more up-tempo. We’ve got better technique. It’s coming along real well.”
Tupou said he feels like working with Franklin is the right fit and that the line has adjusted favorably to his teaching methods.
“I enjoy it,” Tupou said. “I enjoy myself during practice. I enjoy what he has to teach. I’m already used to it.”
Expected to join Tupou and Griffen on USC’s 2009 starting defensive line are redshirt senior tackle Averell Spicer and sophomore defensive end Armond Armstead, who both won their jobs out of spring camp. Spicer started three games at nose tackle in 2008, but may be hindered by a sprained ankle he hurt in mid-August.
While this year’s group does have some experience, Franklin knows the defensive line has a lot of work ahead of it. But the coach does see a lot of potential in his players.
“They just have to keep working, and work together,” Franklin said. “[They have to] do what we ask them to do, and bring their God-given ability to the game. If we just do those things and take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, we’ll see what happens.”
Not only will the defensive line have to establish a new identity, but it will also have to find new leaders after losing a vocal, physical group of starters that combined for 222 tackles at the line throughout their USC careers.
Franklin feels, however, that the team will establish a leader as the season progresses.
“They’re doing the things that we’re asking them to do,” he said. “If we do that, some one is going to step out and emerge and be that guy. I’m not necessarily singling a guy out, per se, but it’ll happen naturally.”
Despite losing key players, the Trojans’ line still expects to be a force in 2009. Griffen feels that if he and the guys around him play at maximum effort, good things will happen.
“It’s always a challenge losing big guys…but that’s why we’ve got people to step in,” Griffen said. “At USC, we’ve got the best recruiting class. So when it’s your time to go, it’s time to go. It’s not a big factor. We’re just pushing through. It looks good right now.”