Defensive Line Concerns Defended

George Uko (Kevin Carden Photo)

The concerns regarding USC's offensive line in 2011 are similar to the ones concerning the defensive line this season.

In 2011, Trojan fans were consumed with the concerns attached to USC's offensive line.

Were they deep enough?

Were they experienced enough?

Were they talented enough?

Fast forward to the following spring and the worries have moved over to the other side of the ball, USC's defensive line.

With three players graduating or declaring early in Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou, USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron has to find the right pieces to fill the void left by these veterans.

At end, the worries aren't as drastic as some believe.

The Trojans are equipped with seniors Devon Kennard and Wes Horton who will share starting duties at left and right end, respectively. And a slew of backups in Kevin Greene, Morgan Breslin, Greg Townsend Jr. and summer enrollee Leonard Williams will all compete for playing time.

But inside, the problems mount.

When a reporter asked Coach "O" how he planned to fill those backup spots behind presumed starting tackles George Uko and J.R. Tavai, Orgeron quipped: "You may be it."

Despite the obvious joke, his words felt real. Loaded. Redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods can backup Tavai at nose tackle, and Tavai can play some three-technique (Uko's primary position) if necessary, but there isn't a go-to player that Orgeron would feel comfortable being in a regular rotation behind Uko.

Yet.

"Well that's the big question," Orgeron said. "There is a big difference between the first team and the second team and those guys have to rise for us -- and I have to do a better job of coaching them and getting them ready."

Orgeron gave credit to redshirt freshman Cody Temple who moved over to defensive tackle when spring started. Unfortunately for the Trojans, Temple came down with an ankle injury that caused him to miss the remainder of spring.

"Now really a guy that was showing some promise was Cody Temple. Cody showed that he can be in and play a game for us. That would be our fourth guy," the coach said.

Townsend was moved to tackle briefly in the spring but Orgeron said his size was an issue and he seemed better as a pass-rusher on the outside.

Despite the lack of depth and the questions surrounding that tackle spot, head coach Lane Kiffin believes Uko is the "perfect three-technique" and Coach Orgeron expects him to have a great season in the fall.

But Orgeron also said Uko needs to get on the field for such acclaim to materialize.

"I coached Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Shaun Cody and those guys all won national championships for [teams I coached], they were all dominant football players. They could all rush the passer. They were all very, very active in ball games. We feel that George can do that.

"I think this year he's going to make another step. I think eventually those guys, their sophomore or junior year they show that they can be that good," he said.

Uko understands that he can be that good, but needs to put in the work first.

"Coach O says I'm great and that I'm real coachable. He just says keep working," Uko said. "He likes my play and thinks I'm a great three-technique but I just got to keep working."

Perpetually optimistic, the redshirt sophomore believes the line can play at the same level as the year before.

"I feel like we could do what they did. I know Wes and Devon, I feel like they could play as good as Nick [Perry] or better," Uko said. "I feel like me, Antwaun and us we could play as good as [Harris] did, too.

"Or better."

That's what fans are hoping, too.

Follow WhitneyKBlaine on Twitter

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