The two Mike Pattersons

USC defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron and head coach Lane Kiffin both compared a current USC defensive linemen to former Trojans defensive tackle Mike Patterson on Thursday, but they were different players.

Orgeron said sophomore J.R. Tavai resembled Patterson in his ability to play nose tackle despite his light weight; Kiffin said redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods resembled him because of his precipitous weight loss since arriving on campus last August.

The funny thing: Tavai and Woods are competing against each other this spring for the only truly open starting spot on the USC team. Every other position everywhere else has either a returning starter or a clear-cut leader. Nose guard is totally up for grabs between Tavai and Woods with Christian Tupou graduating and pursuing an NFL career.

They're totally different, too. Tavai is the over-achieving type, a 6-2, 271-pounder who doesn't show a ton of physical potential but proved enough to get on the field as a true freshman last season. Woods has been an underachiever thus far, seriously underwhelming the USC coaches in fall camp last year when he showed up weighing 340 pounds on his 6-1 frame.

More than likely, the two are going to split time at nose tackle in 2012. If both players can't be counted on to play at least 20 or 30 snaps a game this season, USC's defensive line is going to be in trouble. Former defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. has been working at tackle so far this spring and former offensive guard Cody Temple is too, but there are no other healthy defensive tackles on the roster besides George Uko, will start at three-technique.

Patterson, of course, was a stout 6-foot, 290-pound tackle who found success at nose guard at USC after coming in weighing considerably more than that. Orgeron fell in love with Patterson's potential as a high-schooler and convinced then-coach Pete Carroll he could turn into something.

He did, drawing double-teams on an every-snap basis by the time he was a senior. The Philadelphia Eagles ended up taking him in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft.

"J.R. can be that same type of player," Orgeron said.

As for Woods, he's down to a listed weight of 315 pounds now, but he was still the last Trojan to finish running sprints at the end of Thursday's practice -- and last by a considerable margin. Given the circumstances, his weight and conditioning has to be a worry for this team, right?

Not so much, Orgeron said. Last season, it worried the defensive-line specialist a lot. But he's feeling more positive about Woods' progress of late.

"Give him some credit," Orgeron said Thursday. "He's had a good offseason and he's showed some of the potential that we saw in recruiting. He's not there yet, but, I'm telling you, he's 10 times better than he was at any point last year."

Said Kiffin: "He's come a long ways."