LOS ANGELES--No. 3 USC opened 2012 fall camp on Monday night and, while most of the large media contingent on hand were seeing (Silas) Redd, the real story of the evening was the personnel moves made by Lane Kiffin's Trojans along the defensive line.
A recent pectoral injury to senior Devon Kennard--a projected starter at end--has whittled the Trojans' depth and experience up front to the bone. As a result, Kiffin moved sophomore tackle J.R. Tavai out to end and shifted true freshman Leonard Williams--a highly-touted end from Daytona Beach, Fla.--to tackle.
"It's day one," Kiffin said, reluctant to make too much of the moves. "J.R. played a little end last year. He'll help us out with the loss of Devon. And we'll try Leonard at the three-technique for now."
Kennard's injury puts more pressure on the unit as a whole. Outside of senior end Wes Horton, only sophomore tackle George Uko has a career start under his belt. Beyond those two there is talent available, but few meaningful minutes of experience.
"When Devon went down, the rest of us had a meeting about it," said junior end Kevin Greene, who is also in the mix to replace Kennard. "We all know that when one soldier goes down, the others have to step up."
For his part, Tavai seemed to welcome the pressure.
"(Defensive line coach) Ed Orgeron gave us a speech after Devon's injury," Tavai said. "He told us we have to do our job and compete. Me, I don't really care where I play, as long as I get on the field."
The 6-2, 280-pound Tavai might actually be more suited for end. While he had just four tackles last season in limited action, he showed flashes of the athleticism required to play on the outside.
"I like it out there," Tavai said of playing on the edge. "It gives me more freedom to take on guys one-on-one."
While it could be that Tavai has found a home at end, it remains to be seen what kind of impact the 6-5, 270-pound Williams will have since the pads haven't come on yet. But he should be in the mix to back up rising star Uko.
Eventually, the foursome of Tavai, Uko, Horton and nose tackle Antwuan Woods could turn into one of the better lines in the country.
But not without some growing pains occurring along the way.