Our Summer Preview Series rolls on with what might be the weakest position for the Trojans this season—the defensive line. In 2017, the previously believed-inept USC defense stunned the nation and virtually all the Trojan faithful with their NCAA-leading 46 sacks. This effort was led by a three-man front in Pendergast’s 3-5-5 with downed linemen Rasheem Green, Christian Rector, Josh Fatu and later on on the season—Malik Dorton:
Green-10.5 sacks/12.5 TFLs
Rector-7.5 sacks/7.5 TFLs
Fatu-6 sacks/8.0 TFLs
Dorton-2.5 sacks/3.5 TFLs
A wildly impressive collection of stats by an oft-injured bunch, but alas, Rasheem Green and Josh Fatu are off in the NFL and the revamped defensive line is a difficult one to predict with the guys in the group. Based on last season and recruiting talent, here’s what is the store for the 2018 Trojan defensive line.
Defensive End: Christian Rector, Redshirt Junior
Even if you weren’t paying attention last season, Rector is bound to catch everyone’s attention in 2018. The unsung hero of this Trojan front-seven, Rector came out of no where as a redshirt sophomore to finish third on the team in sacks and lead the team in forced fumbles. At 6’4”and 275 lbs., the mammoth defensive end bulldozed and bullied his way into the backfield and made one the most formidable DE duos alongside Green in recent USC memory.
Defensive Tackle: Malik Dorton, Redshirt Senior
Dorton showed well last season even though he was eventually overtaken by the beast-in-waiting Rector. Dorton managed to play all 14 games for the Trojans was invaluable with injuries across the line. As the most experienced player on this line, Dorton will be able to shine full-time and be USC’s primary run-stuffer at the line of scrimmage.
Nose Tackle: Marlon Tuipulotu, Redshirt Freshman
This is going to be a two-for-one special. In addition to be listed as the starter, Tuipulotu is also pegged for our breakout player. The 2017 five-star recruit and top-five high school defensive tackle in the nation, Tuipulotu was actually in contention to start last season over Josh Fatu until back surgery forced him out of his freshman year. Fully healed and with a full offseason under his belt, Tuipulotu will be expected to step in right away and potentially put up similar numbers to his standout predecessor. His high school highlights from a year ago show how dominant he can be:
The Trojans will have a lot of inexperience behind the starters but will look to rely on sophomore NT Brandon Pili and redshirt freshman Jay Tufele as key rotational pieces. Pili is a big-time nose at 6’4”and 320 lbs., and certainly has the size and strength to overtake the starting job down the line. Tufele arrived with fellow lineman Tuipulotu and was touted higher than him as the former five-star recruit was ranked third in the 2017 defensive tackle class. Injuries also washed Tufele’s freshman season and he’ll be looking to crack into the starting rotation.
Player to Watch
The 2017 five-star duo of Tufele and Tuipulptu might become the best duo in nation down the line. The highest recruited players on this line getting real playing time for the first as Trojans, both players have proven to be dynamic in the past. Whether or not they can overcome injuries another obstacles to get them there will ultimately be the x-factor for this new-look USC pass rush.
Catch up with the offense the rest of Summer Preview Series!