Earlier this week at Pac-12 media day USC coach Lane Kiffin said he felt like the Trojans were in a perfect storm with so many good things going right now. Well, that storm produced some rain on Thursday with the news that senior defensive end Devon Kennard will need surgery on a torn pectoral muscle.
It’s unclear at this point how long Kennard will be out -- estimates range from two to three months to the entire season, based on the severity of the injury. Even those minimum projections of missed time would leave the team without one of its true veteran leaders at a time when it's gearing up for a season with high expectations.
The injury is a blow on so many levels.
For Kennard personally, it’s the latest in a series of setbacks that dates to his senior year at Phoenix Desert Vista High School when he tore knee ligaments and was forced to miss the majority of his final season. Kennard was talented enough to still be named the top defensive end in the nation for the class of 2009, according to the ESPN rankings.
Upon his arrival at USC he was moved to strongside linebacker in his freshman year and then had surgery on his thumb after the season. He was moved to middle linebacker for his sophomore year and then had surgery on his hip following that season. When his junior year rolled around he was moved back to his natural position of defensive end but was a little undersized after being back at linebacker for two years.
As he prepared for his senior year, Kennard was in the best shape of his career at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, and everything seemed to be coming together for him. It’s not like he has had a bad career at USC, he has had 18 career starts combined at linebacker and defensive end with 135 career tackles, 13 tackles for loss and four sacks.
The difference this year is that Kennard sort of capsulized the current state of this USC team. One that had battled some obstacles in recent years but was back on the brink of achieving something special and seemingly up for the challenge. Suddenly the team must figure out how to move on without him as it prepares for fall camp.
The presence of Kennard and fellow senior defensive end Wes Horton was critical for the Trojans, especially with so much concern about the inexperience on the interior of the defensive line. No matter how much youth was in the middle, it was awfully comforting for USC fans to know that those two veteran players were on the outside. It would have provided a nice 1-2 punch on a pass rush that is so important to the overall success of the defense.
So where do the Trojans go from here? The reserves listed on the end-of-spring depth chart behind Kennard are redshirt freshman Greg Townsend Jr., redshirt freshman Charles Burks (who is coming off knee surgery) and true freshman DeVante Wilson (who also is coming off knee surgery).
Of that group, Townsend seems the most likely to step into a bigger role. He’s got good size at 6-3, 260 and, like Kennard, has a good football pedigree as the son of a former NFL player. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before Townsend would become an impact player, but the timing of that impact might just have been moved up quite a bit.
Other options for the Trojans include junior college transfer Morgan Breslin, junior Kevin Greene or incoming freshman Leonard Williams. There is also a thought that tight end Christian Thomas – if healthy – could flip over from offense to help provide depth at end. Thomas played some defensive end as a freshman in 2010 but redshirted the 2011 season at tight end after undergoing hip surgery.
Any way you look at it, this loss hurts the team. When you lose a team leader it hurts, on and off the field, but this USC team has certainly faced adversity before and it will move forward without Devon Kennard while maintaining hope that he can return before the season is over.