USC Football: Previewing the defensive line

One of the stronger looking position groups as the season approaches; this unit features an All-American, surrounded by a mix of other talented players. Leonard Williams is the headliner, for good reason, as he is someone who is being looked at as a possible top-10 NFL draft pick, and one of the better overall players in the nation. Outside of Williams, is a mix of players who are looking to prove themselves as reliable players and younger guys looking to step in and make an impact in more featured roles. Delvon Simmons, a transfer from Texas Tech, is one of these players who seems to have the potential to excel in this defensive system, but must prove it this season.

Starting Lineup

Defensive Tackle: Claude Pelon; RS Junior, 6-5, 285 pounds

A junior college transfer, Pelon has impressed enough during his brief time at USC to cement himself as one of the best potential players to start at tackle. Although he has only been around since the start of spring 2014, the former junior college All-American looks ready to contribute and offer an athletic option at the defensive tackle position.

Nose Tackle: Antwaun Woods; RS Junior, 6-0, 310 pounds

After playing in every game of 2013, and even starting half, Woods looks poised to have a stellar 2014 campaign. He has drawn high praise from coach Steve Sarkisian throughout the spring season being described as a, “playmaker,” rather than a nose tackle that simply eats double teams and fails to make any larger impact. With the momentum from a positive spring, Woods could become one of the more disruptive players at his position in the Pac-12.

Defensive End: Leonard Williams; Junior, 6-5, 290 pounds

A consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2013, Williams is being touted as the best defensive lineman in college football going into the 2014 season. With 22 career starts and 138 total tackles over his first two seasons, Williams is the rare big-bodied defensive lineman that is athletic enough to make plays all over the field, instead of just being strictly a pass-rusher or run-stopper.

In what could be his final season at USC, he is projected by most experts as a top pick in next year’s draft. Williams has a chance to be the next great defensive player to come out of USC. Although he will be facing numerous blockers on most plays, the talent of the whole line will not allow to focus strictly on Williams, allowing him to still accumulate his typical statistics.

Rush End: J.R. Tavai; RS Sophomore, 6-2, 220 pounds

After stepping in and contributing after Morgan Breslin was injured in 2013, Tavai looks ready to be a consistent force on the outside and be a main source of quarterback pressure for the defense. While he will be battling Scott Starr for the job, Tavai seems to have the talent and experience to win this position battle and be an important contributor for the Trojans.

Potential Contributors

Nose Tackle: Kenny Bigelow; RS Freshman, 6-3, 300 pounds

Coming out of high school as one of the top players at his position, Bigelow spent his true freshman season redshirting and gaining college experience. A very athletic player for 300 pounds, he has the potential to make a large impact on the defensive line. Although he may not see much time starting, Bigelow should get plenty of minutes and grow into whatever role the team needs out of the talented redshirt freshman.

 Defensive End: Delvon Simmons; RS Junior, 6-6, 300 pounds

After making the Big 12 All-Freshman team at Texas Tech in 2011, Simmons transferred in 2013 to USC. After sitting last season out, he is ready to make an impact as Leonard Williams’ back up at defensive end. He filled in for Williams during the 2014 spring season and gained some experience that could benefit him as the first regular season game approaches. Barring an injury to Williams, Simmons should see plenty of action on the line because of the versatility to move players around on the line.