USC mailbag: Defensive line depth, freshmen starters and defensive scheme

USC's Rasheem Green tackles Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay on Nov. 13.

USC’s Rasheem Green tackles Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay on Nov. 13.

(Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)

Did USC address its needs on signing day? I’m concerned about lack of defensive line talent and depth.

— Basel Nizamm, @baselnizam

The defensive line has depth, but it is certainly lacking for experience after five seniors, three of them starters, exhausted their eligibility after last season.


USC has signed nine linemen in its last two recruiting classes.

Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson played in all 14 games as freshmen last season. They made a combined 18 tackles and Green recovered a fumble and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

Freshman Jacob Daniel played in three games and Christian Rector and Kevin Scott redshirted. The development of these three players will be critical to the success of the line next season.

In this year’s recruiting class, USC signed Oluwole Betiku, Liam Jimmons, Connor Murphy and Josh Fatu.

Betiku and Jimmons enrolled in January and will get a head start on their development when they participate in 15 spring practices. Murphy and Fatu will have to adapt quickly in the fall.

Let’s not forget that third-year sophomore Malik Dorton also returns, though he played in only two games last season.

Fifth-year senior Jordan Simmons has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but also could make an impact.

Regarding USC’s offensive philosophy, are there any signs indicating a “power/ground and pound” approach?

— Jason Hernandez, @jayhndz

Any signs?

It is most signs.

After Clay Helton took over as coach, USC established itself as a run-first team and players said they found their offensive identity under him.

Look for that trend to continue this spring and into the fall.

The day after the Trojans’ 23-21 loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl, Helton said that USC must develop in the trenches.

That indicates more running.

Will Max Browne win the starting quarterback’s job in the spring?

— Tarik LaCour, @HumeDisciple

Barring a major upset, yes.

When Helton was named permanent coach, that all but solidified that Browne would become Cody Kessler’s successor.

Browne has spent three seasons on the sideline and three seasons learning from Helton.

Helton said it would be an open competition, and it will, but unless redshirt-freshman Sam Darnold significantly outplays Browne this spring, the fourth-year junior will be named the starter.

Looking at the 2016 recruiting class so far, do you see anyone playing right away? Jamel Cook looks like he could be a force. What do you think? Do you know what style defense the Trojans will play? That boring laid back or aggressive?

— Cass Brown

USC signed several impressive receivers, but as I wrote last week, it will be tough for them to break through as freshmen with the amount of talent ahead of them.

It seems the most likely freshmen to play right away could be on the defensive side, including the linemen and defensive backs.

Clancy Pendergast returns as defensive coordinator, which means a return to the same style of defense played during the 2013 season, when Pendergast also was the Trojans’ coordinator.

He ran a 5-2 defense that season, with an emphasis on pressuring the quarterback.

Helton has said several times that getting to the quarterback would be a focal point next season, and that lends itself to why USC signed three long and lean defensive ends.

How is it that some schools can sign more players than the allotted 25?

— Geno Apicella

If a program does not use all of its 25 allotted scholarships, any scholarships that were not awarded can be used to sign midyear enrollees in the next class.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @lindseythiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC mailbag.