In order to repeat as the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12, USC will need to dominate the trenches with some new faces who can complement the stars that have already developed into big-time contributors.
Peter Sirmon (Linebackers/Washington) and Chris Wilson (DL/Georgia) will be settled with the task of replacing very likable figures in Ed Orgeron, who leaves his lasting legacy with many of these players, along with fiery coach Mike Ekeler.
Both coaches provided plenty of passion and vigor for the job, but many of their supporters declared for the NFL Draft early, which gives both Sirmon and Wilson a somewhat clean slate to reinvigorate an always aggressive defensive front.
The biggest loss from both these units starts on the outside with redshirt senior Devon Kennard (9 sacks last season), who's currently preparing for the 2014 NFL Draft. He along with fellow outside pass rusher Morgan Breslin leave a gaping whole in USC's pass-rushing threats from the perimeter. So here is what stands in the wings this Spring.
DL: Joey Aguello (Jr.), Kenny Bigelow (R. Fr.), Jeff Miller (So.), Claude Pelon (Jr.), Delvon Simmons (Jr.), Cody Temple (Jr.), Greg Townsend Jr. (Jr.), Leonard Williams (Returning Starter: Jr.), Antwaun Woods (Returning Starter: Jr.)
OLB: Charles Burkes (Jr.), Malik Dorton (In. Fr.), Don Hill (Fr.), Uchenna Nwosu (In. Fr.), Quinton Powell (So.), Jabari Ruffin (So.), Scott Starr (So.), J.R. Tavai (Returning Starter: Sr.)
These position groups provide some of the most exciting prospects on the entire roster. Starting first and foremost with ESPN.com First-Team All-American Leonard Williams, the Trojans have star power up the middle.
The combination of Williams and Antwaun Woods, who played extremely well on the field together against Boston College and Stanford last season, could give USC the one-two punch to stifle anything from scat backs to power rushing attacks.
USC welcomes plenty of new faces to the fold, and coach Sarkisian has done an excellent job of recruiting hybrid backers to play sideline to sideline defense against a schedule that features a slew of high-tempo offenses. All in all to this point, the position is very youthful but certainly capable of being molded into an elite-level group come this Fall.
DELVON SIMMONS...HOW DO YOU DO
To quote the beloved ESPN Personality Pete Arbogast, Delvon Simmons is an instant star in the making. Following an impressive season with Texas Tech in 2012 (6 TFL), Simmons worked on USC's practice squad last season and showcased why his arrival was worth all the commotion last June and will be even bigger news moving forward.
He immediately disrupted the likes of Marcus Martin and Max Tuerk from day one in practice, and if all goes well, could provide a unique blend of spend and relentless energy up the middle this Spring. Working alongside the likes of Leonard Williams will only make matters easier for Simmons, who can also clog holes in the running game quite well.
PASS RUSHING SOLUTIONS
Given the loss of Kennard and Breslin from the outside, the Trojans will need a pass-rushing threat to emerge this Spring. Some of the candidates to watch will be Jabari Ruffin (23 tackles) and dual-threat lineman J.R. Tavai, who Ed Orgeron called the most talented pass rusher on the Trojans defensive line.
Expect USC to be equally aggressive bringing pressure on the quarterback this season, especially with improved coverage play, which lends us to think that coverage sacks and tremendous up the middle pressure could alleviate some concerns over the lack of an elite-level edge pass rusher on the roster.
BEVY OF RICHES IN RESERVE
For the first time in over two years USC has the horses to match any team in the trenches. After going through nearly an entire season with just 12 or 13 players on defense, rising stars like Simmons, Kenny Bigelow (the infamously funny pawn for Ed Orgeron) give the Trojans two, and even three-deep depth up the middle.
The biggest gift for USC's defense however, besides the return of captain Hayes Pullard, could be the addition of edge DE setter Claude Pelon. Pelon is one of the top JC-transfers in the nation, and is a physical specimen not only in the weight room but on the field. Give him some time, and we could really start to tell whether the talk is really worth much.
WHAT DOES THE SARK SAY...
"We have a chance to be special here, but the line's development this spring will be critical. With some players limited during the spring, a great opportunity will be presented to the younger linemen to get valuable reps." -Sarkisian said per the 2014 USC Spring Football Press Release