While the USC Trojans have been tearing up the recruiting trail this year and are finally eligible again for the postseason, they are still feeling the NCAA sanctions in terms of the depth of their team. Scholarship limits have stretched the Trojans thin in several areas of the field and one of their thinnest positions will now get cut even thinner as defensive end Devon Kennard suffered a tear of his pectoral muscle on Thursday while weightlifting.
Kennard, a senior who was expected to start this season, is slated to undergo surgery next week and will out at least 2-3 months. Depending on the severity of the tear, which will be determined during his surgery, Kennard could miss the entire 2012 season. If the tear turns out to be that severe, Kennard would likely redshirt this season and return as a fifth-year player in 2013.
The USC defensive line was already struggling with depth to begin with, so losing Kennard is a huge blow. The senior defensive end has started 18 games over the last three seasons for the Trojans, which is the second most of any lineman on the roster. The next is redshirt sophomore defensive lineman George Uko, with just two career starts. The vacancy left by Kennard will be filled by either true freshman Leonard Williams, redshirt freshman Greg Townsend, Jr., or redshirt junior Kevin Greene. Those three will compete as summer practice opens up to see who will land the starting end position.
Losing the defensive end hurts in more ways than just depth. Kennard has made a name for himself at USC with his versatility. In his freshman season of 2009, Kennard started the season as a backup defensive end, but soon found himself in games for pass rushing situations. He was then moved to outside linebacker and started the last four games of the season. In 2010, he was moved inside to middle linebacker and had his most best statistical season of his college career, making 72 tackles, including 7 for loss with a pair of sacks. Last season, he was moved back to his original position of defensive end, where he made 29 tackles, including four for loss and a pair of sacks.
Injuries are not anything new to Kennard, who has already undergone three surgeries in the last four years. During his senior year in high school, he had surgery to repair a torn ACL. After his freshman season at USC, he had surgery on an injured thumb, and after his sophomore season he had to have surgery on his hip. The number of times he’s gone under the knife and come back bode well for his chances of returning to the field for USC, but you have to wonder how much it hurts his chances of playing on Sundays in the NFL someday.
For USC, this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. While they are thin at many positions, the players they have for this season are extremely good, and many people think that the defense is underrated going into the 2012 season. They’ll have to push some young talent into the fray perhaps a little sooner and a little longer than they had originally planned, but that experience will only make them better football players down the line. Then next season, the Trojans will bring in a top recruiting class of talented freshman, like new commit Jason Hatcher, to pair with the youth that got forced into action this season and a pair of senior ends in Kennard, should he return for a fifth year, and Greene will make one of the thinnest positions for the Trojans in 2012 one of its deepest in 2013.
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