The Trojans greatest position of flux from last season has been reinvigorated with top talent through recruiting, but that means plenty of tough spots will be up on the line this Spring when the returners take the field on March 11th.
Offensive line coach Tim Drevno will have plenty of weapons to work with this Spring, maybe not to the likes to Mike Iupati in San Francisco but filled with vast potential. His mission will be to craft a more physical, yet agile group of starters that can play up-tempo football while also being able to control the line of scrimmage in the running game.
All-Pac-12 center Marcus Martin (Mike Mayock's top center prospect) is the most notable loss from last year's squad, which also departs starting contributors John Martinez and Kevin Graf by way of graduation here in 2014.
The newest class waiting in the wings, which welcomes five top prospects, will certainly be up to the task to fill some big shoes this Fall but that means plenty of intense competition will be taking place in the weeks leading up to the USC Spring Football Game to leave lasting impressions on the coaching staff.
Jordan Austin (Fr.), Zach Banner (So.), Chris Brown (In. Fr.), Giovanni Di Poalo (Sr.), Nico Falah (R. Fr.), Nathan Guertler (R. Sr.), Erick Jepsen (Jr.), Toa Lobendahn (Fr.), Damien Mama (In. Fr.), Khaliel Rodgers (R. Fr.), Jordan Simmons (So.), Dane Stevens (R. Fr.), Viane Talamaivao (In. Fr.), Max Tuerk (Returning Starter: Jr.), Aundrey Walker (Returning Starter: Sr.), Chad Wheeler (Returning Stater: So.)
USC averaged 4.5 yards on the ground per carry last year, clearing ways for the likes of Buck Allen, Ty Isaac, Silas Redd, Justin Davis and Tre Madden in the backfield to the tune of over 2,000 combined yards of offense.
The returning starters, Chad Wheeler and Max Tuerk, could provide major stability to the left side. Both guys started every game this season, and Wheeler will continue to develop after making just his first career start against Hawaii, while Tuerk (Pac-12 Honorable Mention) continues to impress with his run and pass-blocking skill set.
It starts with the USC seniors Giovanni Di Poalo and Aundrey Walker, the latter of which has started his fair share of games at RG after being bumped down the line for lack of lateral quickness during Fall Camp.
Walker could certainly compete for playing time at RG once again this season, but it will be interesting to see whether redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers (6-3, 310) can take advantage of the extra reps during Spring Practice before the up-and-coming guard prospect Viane Talamaivo could compete for immediate playing time this Fall.
JORDAN SIMMONS TIME TO SHINE
The one offensive lineman that may not get the front-page headlines this Spring but will be extremely important for success will be junior Jordan Simmons. Battling through a fair share of injuries throughout his career, Simmons talent is certainly noteworthy and will get the chance at first-team reps at both guard and center this Spring.
MAKE OR BREAK SPRING FOR WALKER
Walker has jumped around the offensive line for as long as he's worn Cardinal and Gold. The one thing Walker brings to the table is size, and sheer girth -along with three years of experience at multiple positions. During stints last season against some of the weaker non-conference foes, Walker actually did a fairly decent job of clearing holes in the running game. The one area he must improve is in pass protection. If that does not change, his starting days will be numbered.
Believe it or not, USC has taken conceited efforts to bulk up in the offensive line especially as the days of scholarship reductions end, and big-time defensive lines continue to take center stage in the conference. While some of the top guys will not be practicing until the fall, Toa Lobendahn and the redshirts could see immediate action. The one guy to definitely watch this Spring would be Toa because of his quickness and explosion off the line of scrimmage.
FINAL OFFENSIVE LINE THOUGHT
Steve Sarkisian has preached the importance of maintaining tempo on offense, and all signs indicate that the Trojans will be mixing in bodies a great deal over the next few weeks. Expect as the practices go on, veteran guys like Nathan Guertler (RT) and Max Tuerk (LG) to emerge as foundational leaders on each side of the offensive line.