Devon Kennard found his niche.
The fifth-year senior came to USC as a defensive end, started at outside linebacker near the end of his freshman season, played middle linebacker as a sophomore and was a defensive end in 2011.
Kennard redshirted last season because of a chest muscle injury suffered on the eve of training camp.
This spring, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Kennard has appeared perfectly cast as an end-linebacker hybrid in a scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
“This definitely feels the most natural position for me,” Kennard said. “It utilizes everything I can do.”
In the fall, Kennard will be the most experienced player for a defense that will feature returning starters such as junior linebackers Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson and junior Dion Bailey, who will probably move from linebacker to safety.
Pullard said defensive players were taking their cues from the 21-year-old Kennard.
“I’ve been here awhile — it’s not like I’m a young guy anymore,” Kennard said, laughing. “I’m trying to lead by example. My whole focus this spring is just getting better and earning my teammates’ respect through the way I play.”
Kennard has already earned a communications degree and will complete a master’s degree in communication management by the end of the fall semester.
“You can look at situations as problems or opportunities,” he said. “I got better physically and mentally all last year, so I’m healthier than if I played last season.
“I also got to finish school and will walk out of USC with two degrees and, hopefully, the opportunity to play at the next level. That’s not a bad situation.”
Madden on the mend
USC also figures to benefit this fall from the return of tailback Tre Madden.
The third-year sophomore moved from linebacker to tailback last spring but suffered a season-ending knee injury just over a year ago and redshirted.
Madden, listed at 6-1, 220, won’t be cleared for full contact until fall, but he has appeared powerful and nimble in drills.
“We had a plan set, so I’m trying not to rush anything,” Madden said after Tuesday’s workout.
Madden could provide the Trojans with a powerful option in a tailback corps that includes senior Silas Redd, junior D.J. Morgan, sophomore Javorius Allen and freshmen Justin Davis and Ty Isaac, a summer arrival.
Redd, the Trojans’ leading rusher last season, is recovering from knee surgery. Morgan has been held out of workouts the last week because of knee soreness.
Madden said he would be prepared for whatever role he can fill.
“I know what I have to do to get better, so I’m not really thinking about the hype,” he said. “I know I’ll be back in the fall, so I’m just preparing myself for that.”
For the first time in weeks, the Trojans did not practice in full pads. . . . With high winds swirling during practice, USC’s video crew worked from temporary lifts that were extended to about half their usual height. . . . USC’s spring scrimmage will be played Saturday at the Coliseum at 1 p.m. Tickets are $10.