A good player is valuable to a team only to the extent that he is in good health and his body can withstand the toll of a season. A talented player with a high sports IQ and great natural instincts will not be able to display their sense of the game if their body does not cooperate.
This point in many ways underscores the challenge USC faces this season along the defensive line. The Trojans have good players up front, but they don’t have many. In addition, among these few good players, there is concern about their ability to physically resist over a full season. A lack of size or volume is a real concern for this team, as is the injury status of other players in that particular position group.
Antonio Morales of The Athletic clarifies some details:
There’s no doubt that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has his work cut out when it comes to rebuilding USC’s defense, which arguably hit an all-time low program last season.
Third-year defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu was a first-team All-Pac-12 performer, but there are a lot of questions about what surrounds him on the defensive line. Teams like Oregon State, Utah and UCLA have exploited this weak spot time and time again as they drive through the heart of the Trojans defense.
Stanley Ta’ufo’ou has the inside lane to start again in the middle of the line. He will probably get help from Brandon Pili there. To each his own worries: Ta’ufo’ou, a converted linebacker, weighs only 270 pounds; Pili has the size to hold on but comes off a torn Achilles and has struggled with inconsistency throughout his six-season career.
Nick Figueroa is also a potential contributor and starter on the defensive line, but he’s been hampered by injuries in recent years.
Can these guys play well? Yes, they can. Will they hold up physically? This is the big question that hangs over this season like a sword of Damocles.
Is it a Trojan sword? We will know in a few months.