You would have to be living on the moon to not know how good USC's defense is this season. There have been a lot of articles, too numerous to link to, that have dissected the 2008 unit. Who's in, who's out, where the strengths and weaknesses etc. It has been easy not to look too closely at the defense as they have always been self sufficient and the marquis of how Pete Carroll puts his team together.
There have been some pretty incredible names that have gone onto fame in the NFL. Names like Udeze, Polamalu, Tatupu, Patterson, Cody and this years class of Ellis, Rivers, Jackson and Thomas. But for some reason this years version seems different from other years. There is a lot riding on the defense this year their performance is going to be key to keeping SC in games early in the season as the offense gets settled in and they are taking it seriously...
The USC defense, headlined as it is by four, maybe five, players who could be first-round NFL draft picks, talks a different talk this season, maybe because it's walking a different walk.
"Every one of us feels that we'll carry this team," senior linebacker Rey Maualuga said of the defense after Thursday's mock game at the Coliseum.
They're young, talented and they'll be fine is the gist of their feelings about the offense, so Taylor Mays' comment to ESPN this week that seemed to make every message board in college football barely caused a ripple at Howard Jones Field.
"We're a defensive football team," Mays said.
Who does what on offense doesn't really matter all that much in his mind. That's not his job.
Mays has more than earned the right to talk the way he does. It wouldn't surprise me if he was gone after this season, provided he is healthy and has a strong year. Mays isn't necessarily wrong in his comments either, defenses want to hit they could care less who it is. Offenses want to break off big plays and score so there is always a little more orchestration needed for them to make a splash. For the defense it's simple, see target, track target HIT the target!
But we could be seeing something different with this years defense, something that a lot of fans have wanted to see and wondered why we haven't.
They're getting much more of a chance this preseason in a blitzing, pressing scheme unlike the conservative, make-no-mistake, give-up-nothing-deep defense of last season.
Carroll has said that's been to speed up the development of the quarterbacks, but there's no doubt there's something else going on here.
Maualuga is in the middle of it. He has his own youtube.com archive of top hits but hasn't always had the production, especially in turnover-producing plays, that former USC standout Lofa Tatupu, for example, did. Which is why Maualuga's increased presence in the passing lanes is a good early sign for the defense.
Watch this team work. Turnover drills matter again. No more walking through them.
I can't tell you how many times on the message boards and on CC where the question has been asked why don't we blitz more?
Pete Carroll's scheme of bend don't break or don't give up the big play has been the staple of defense the past 3-4 years. We have always been a little frustrated when opposing offenses were able to get decent yardage underneath instead making the opposing QB run for his life or pay for scrambling out of the pocket more often, a la the Maualuga hit on Cowan or Wright's hit on Locker (penalty be damned).
It is always tough to try and replace players like Ellis, Jackson or Rivers and this year is no different but we have some guys in Moala, Moore, Spicer Tupou and Maiava who will do a more than adequate job of stepping in and filling prominent roles.
With things apparently starting to settle in on the offense, though we aren't out of the woods yet, this hard hitting defense once again puts us in a position to be in the mix when it comes to the national picture. Man, I can't wait to see how they perform on the road at UVA!