January 27, 2009

Future Impact: Devon Kennard

The door became slowly opened for a moment like this.

With three senior defensive ends moving on, the timing was right for Devon Kennard, a five-star prospect from Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, to put a pair of fingers in the air and tell his friends, family and the press that he was headed to USC.

In Kennard, the Trojans get a rare specimen. His combination of size and speed projects him as an every-down defensive end.

He can rush the passer with his hand on the ground, or he can run around blockers after starting upright. He'll stop the run.

And, with the current USC depth chart, Kennard could have a chance to come in and play sooner than later.

Without Clay Matthews, Kyle Moore and Gerald Washington back, the numbers at defensive end have taken a serious hit.

Everson Griffen began the season as a starter before getting benched in favor of Matthews. Practicing with some improved work habits, Griffen stayed in the rotation at end and finished the year with 4.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles for losses.

Griffen seems like the logical choice to step and start next year at one end of the defensive line.

Opposite him, though, and the competition is really wide open.

Malik Jackson played more than Wes Horton and Nick Perry this past season because, well, Horton and Perry redshirted. Working mostly in mop-up time, Jackson finished the year with four tackles - two of which were sacks.

Horton and Perry should benefit from the redshirt year, but only Horton could be a full-time defensive lineman. Perry worked at three different positions this season with the scout team, playing linebacker, end and defensive tackle.

Kevin Greene, a three-star prospect and the 22nd-ranked weakside defensive end in the class, committed to USC in January. Greene could likely be used as a stand-up pass rusher and outside linebacker.

Because he's only played football for two years, Greene is more of project than Kennard and could be a candidate for a redshirt.

Kennard's commitment should tell us two things.

First, the Trojan defensive line will be young and scary talented. Tackles Armond Armstead and Jurrell Casey both flashed and worked their way into the rotation this past season. Griffen and defensive tackle Christian Tupou both return for their junior season. Jackson proved he could get to the quarterback. And with Perry and Horton coming off of redshirt seasons, those two should be in the mix for playing time.

Second, Kennard will have a chance to make an immediate impact. His knee injury could be a blessing in disguise, as all of the rehabilitation work should have him in excellent shape for his arrival on campus.

The door for opportunity was opened, and Tuesday, Kennard announced he was walking through.

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