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USC Offensive Line Shuffle: Lobendahn Taking Over at LT; LG Open

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USC O-Line shuffles following season-ending injury.

Toa Lobendahn is taking over at left tackle.
Toa Lobendahn is taking over at left tackle.
Shotgun Spratling/Conquest Chronicles

USC suffered one of its biggest losses of the season at Utah and this isn't a reference to the final score. The Trojans also lost Chad Wheeler for the season.

Wheeler, the team's starting left tackle, is done for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on the second play of the game. After playing injured for 7-8 snaps, Wheeler left the game and was replaced by senior Aundrey Walker.

Walker limited Utah stud pass rush specialist Nate Orchard to zero sacks until the final play of the game when a gang of Utah defenders swarmed Cody Kessler. Orchard was credited with a half sack. On Sunday, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian revealed Wheeler's injury during his weekly media call and said Walker would be taking over at the position.

But that changed by Tuesday morning's practice. Sarkisian said following the practice that starting left guard Toa Lobendahn was receiving snaps at left tackle and media reports placed Walker with the second team.

"We wanted to take a look at Toa today at left tackle to see what he'd look like at that spot," Sarkisian said after the practice. "I'll have to go back and look at the film, quite honestly. I don't get to see everything in practice the entire time. We're just trying to get an idea because, honestly, we could start Aundrey Walker and his foot could get injured the second play of the game. We need to have a plan in place big picture-wise. So, we wanted to give Toa an extensive amount of reps at left tackle, then we'll have to reassess it."

Sarkisian liked what he saw on tape.

"He looked really good. He looked athletic," Steve Sarkisian said after practice Wednesday. "We've always felt his strength were his feet at guard and at tackle, I thought it really showcased his feet, especially on film and not just in the team settings, but when you watch the one-on-one stuff."

Sarkisian said the job was Toa Lobendahn's going forward and made it sound like it might be a permanent switch for this season and beyond.

"Quite honestly, for his future might be more of a natural position for him. That looks like the direction we're going to go in."

Depsite Lobendahn being small by the current left tackle standards at 6'3", 280 pounds, offensive line coach Tim Drevno told ESPN he believes Lobendahn has what it takes to play the position:

"If you look at him he's got pretty good arm length," Drevno said. "He's got some pretty good measurables -- I'd say probably 33 1/3 [inch] arm length. So, he can do the edge fine, and gosh, if you're a football player, you're a football player."

Sarkisan said on Tuesday night's Trojans Live program that the thought of moving Max Tuerk back to left tackle where he started his freshman year and Lobendahn to center was tossed around. The coaching staff chose instead to just move Lobendahn because they didn't want to have three players in new positions.

With Toa Lobendahn sliding out to left tackle, his left guard spot has now opened up. Fellow true freshman Damien Mama got the first opportunity at the first-team snaps on Tuesday, but he injured his knee during one-on-one drills, according to the OC Register. Mama did not practice on Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers, who was slated to start the season at right guard before spraining his knee before the season opener, was in at left guard on Wednesday.

"We're still going to have to rotate some guys," Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday. "Aundrey's got to be ready to spell these guys. He's got to be able to spell Zach Banner as well. A lot of moving parts up there, but we feel good with what we're doing.

For Aundrey Walker, it comes down to consistency:

"It's about doing things right, down after down, mentally and physically," Sarkisian said Tuesday. "I talked to Aundrey about that today. He's got a great opportunity this week, and so we'll see what happens."

The competition is going to be open throughout the week, according to Drevno:

"It’s open competition," offensive line coach Tim Drevno said. "We’re rolling the balls out, and we’ll see who’s going to start." -- OC Register