With fall camp slated to begin Monday, we'll be examining a few lingering storylines the Trojans must sort out as they begin preparations for the upcoming 2012 season. Up today, our first in the five-part series: the effect of the injury to returning senior defensive end Devon Kennard.
Less than two weeks ago at Pac-12 Media Day, USC coach Lane Kiffin stated the Trojans' running back depth was the team's No. 1 concern.
Fast-forward to today and the tune of that statement might be slightly different.
Heading into the season, the expectation for the Trojans' up front was to start senior defensive ends Wes Horton and Devon Kennard. They lost three starters in NIck Perry, Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris, but along the edges, they'd have a formidable and very experienced duo.
"Defensive line and defensive tackle is a concern," USC coach Lane Kiffin told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "There are not many guys that have played. We have to get our defensive linemen who have not played to have a great camp. We have to develop depth if we’re going to be successful this year because you better rotate guys in there as you go along."
But Kennard suffered a torn pectoral muscle lifting weights Thursday, underwent surgery Monday and would likely miss the entire regular season.
Now the Trojans' front-four looks even thinner.
Sophomore defensive tackles George Uko and J.R. Tavai are expected to start in the interior. But take Kennard out of the equation and, looking at the projected starting four up front, the group will have a combined 20 starts between them. Opposite Horton, the job is up for grabs between multiple players with little or no experience: junior Kevin Greene, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin, redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr. and incoming freshman Leonard Williams. Maybe even true freshman Antwaun Woods will have a chance, too.
The lack of depth on USC's roster has been well-documented up till this point. With limited scholarships, it cannot afford any injuries --- that's a given. Losing Kennard could have the greatest impact.
But if Kiffin and his coaching staff are to make use of his top-notch recruits, here's the chance to develop them in fall camp. The underclassmen --- namely Townsend and Williams --- could turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
Similar to last year, there was speculation as to how USC would deal with a very young linebacking core. Sure, there was Chris Galippo, but alongside him, there was Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey and Lamar Dawson. Pullard and Bailey were redshirt freshmen; Dawson was a true freshmen last year. Another true freshman --- Tre Madden --- emerged later in the season, too.
Kennard's injury might be concerning, and now, there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Trojans' defensive line.
But similar to last year, one of the underclassmen will certainly have to step up --- much like last season --- if USC is to take that next step forward as a national championship team.