Trojans defense showing growth from last season

The defense set the tone and dominated practice once again Tuesday morning.

Particularly notable was the rise of senior safety and returning starter T.J. McDonald, who has provided an increased level of vocal leadership.

“T.J. is taking it to the next level right now,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin.

The defensive domination included interceptions by redshirt sophomore linebacker Will Andrew and redshirt freshman linebacker Hayes Pullard.

“Will Andrew has had an interception every day so far,” Kiffin said. “And we have a long way to go, but eventually I would love to rotate more defensive players in throughout games.”

With McDonald and sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey entrenched as returning starters, competition for the other spots has heated up.

“[Junior safety] Jawanza Starling has come out with a lot of focus,” Kiffin said. “He took a demotion last year and is looking good now.”

Last year, a lack of depth on both sides of the ball kept the Trojans out of tackling drills during the fall, resulting in missed tackles during games.

Now, the team is learning from its mistakes.

“We’re translating from the film room to the field very well,” McDonald said. “Coach is putting us in great positions and we’re executing.”



Redshirt freshman tailback D.J. Morgan practiced Tuesday morning, returning from a tweaked knee that kept him out of last week’s practice.

“I need to get my knee ready from a mental standpoint,” Morgan said. “Learning the plays will help me mentally overall. And my knee feels good; not 100 percent, but I’m hoping to really start planting on it soon.”

With senior tailback Marc Tyler out of practice with a hamstring injury, Morgan, sophomore Dillon Baxter and junior Curtis McNeal received the bulk of the repetitions at tailback.

“We had a good day from McNeal today, especially on special teams,” Kiffin said. “And D.J. Morgan has had good flashes.”



The offensive line has only two returning starters, junior tackle Matt Kalil and junior guard Khaled Holmes.

Guard Butch Lewis and center Kristofer O’Dowd have graduated and tackle Tyron Smith has entered the NFL draft.

This season, Holmes will move to center to provide a veteran anchor for an otherwise young unit.

“It’s tough replacing such an experienced group up front,” Holmes said. “But I’m working as hard as possible and I feel like I’m starting to come along.”