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August 7, 2006

Defensive rebound

USC had an unprecedented run over the past few years, one of the most impressive streaks in college football history.

But Trojan fans have a hard time erasing the memories of those defensive breakdowns the team suffered through last year, capped off by the inability to tackle Vince Young in the Rose Bowl. Senior linebacker Oscar Lua talked to USCFootball.com about his expectations for the defense in 2006.

During the first two days of camp the offense took center stage, but since the shoulder pads went on it has been the defense that has dominated play.

With several players back from injuries and an influx of speedy freshmen to bolster the roster, the USC defense looks poised to be the focal point of this team.

"We have a lot of guys back that we didn't have in the spring and we just loaded up on an arsenal new rookies and freshmen coming in," Lua explained. "So it is just a complete turnaround as far as personnel goes. We are three deep at every position and it just feels real good to have that kind of depth backing everybody up."

Besides the personnel additions, the scheme of Pete Carroll's defense could also be modified this season.

Instead of four defensive linemen and three linebackers, Carroll has run out three down linemen and four standing linebackers at times to get his best football players on the field.

"I love it, absolutely," Lua said about the modified 3-4 defense. "It is one of my guys, from my squad getting out there on the field.

"But it doesn't change the role of the Mike (middle linebacker), all it does is replace one of our defensive ends with a standing linebacker, which is in essence a 3-4 defense."

Right now the starting linebackers are Lua in the middle and Dallas Sartz and Keith Rivers on the outside. When they bring in an extra backer, referred to as the "elephant" position, Brian Cushing is the first guy coming in.

If may have started out as an experiment, but the first few days of camp have shown that the 3-4 defense has got potential.

"They like it right now and we are producing real well so hopefully it will carry out throughout fall camp and into the season."

Essentially the responsibilities of the position do not change, they simply throw in a linebacker instead of a bigger lineman and put them in a two-point stance.

"In many cases it would be a smaller guy but in this case we have linebackers that are the size of defensive ends and they are moving fast," Lua said. "Linebackers are just more familiar with a two-point stance than a three-point stance, so it is just a change of the personnel, not how they perform their roles or tasks."

Linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr. has been as vocal as ever, many times screaming on the practice field, blaming himself for not coaching the guys well enough if they miss a tackle or an assignment.

"He is such a competitive person and he played in the NFL for so long and to him everything is personal," Lua said about his coach. "If one of his linebackers doesn't make a play he is taking personal insult to it."

As camp grinds on Lua will continue to get in competitive situations with some of his teammates that happen to play on the opposite side of the ball.

"Ryan Kalil and Chilo Rachal are definitely the two guys that the Mike backer is usually intertwined with most of the time, the guard and the center," Lua said. "There is definitely a competition between the Mike's and those two guys."

Stay tuned to USCFootball.com reports, interviews and photos from all of the fall practices.

Not seen our USCFootball.com video interviews yet? Click here for our interview with fullback Brandon Hancock.

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