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Better/Worse/Neutral Series: Offensive Line

Time to address where the Trojans stand up front.

The Torrance coach needs to develop continuity on the fledgling offensive line.
The Torrance coach needs to develop continuity on the fledgling offensive line.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Key Returners Up Front: Max Tuerk (Jr.), Chad Wheeler (Redshirt So.), Zach Banner (Redshirt So). Aundrey Walker (Sr.), Jordan Simmons (Redshirt So.), Khaliel Rodgers (Redshirt Fr.), Nico Falah (Redshirt Fr.), Nathan Guertler (Redshirt Sr.)

Key Losses: Marcus Martin (NFL), Kevin Graf (Graduation), Abe Markowitz (Graduation), John Martinez (Graduation)

Key Additions: Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivo, Chris Brown

Heading into the 2014 season the offensive line had by far the most turnover of any position group from the previous season for the Trojans. The losses of lynchpins Marcus Martin and Kevin Graf will be hard for the unit to overcome, but there are still some bright spots to complement the returning starters on the unit.

Utility lineman Max Tuerk is the standout of the group returning. After playing both tackle and guard in previous seasons, it appears the junior will begin the season as starting center. The other sure thing on the USC line is left tackle Chad Wheeler. As a full-time starter last season, Wheeler will now be the anchor on quarterback Cody Kessler’s blind side.

At the other tackle spot, it appears the gigantic Zach Banner will be the man to beat. Standing at 6-foot-9 and weighing 345 pounds, Banner struggled to adapt to the college game early in his career, citing a lack of mobility and flexibility in his hips. After surgery to help fix the problem, Banner came into spring practice looking like a totally new player.

Now able to fully utilize his massive frame, the former five-star recruit was one of the revelations of the spring.

By the end of camp, he easily displaced senior Nathan Guertler in the number one unit and has Sarkisian speculating on his potential: "A lot of his future will center around his confidence continuing to grow. He’s a very bright guy. He’s physically gifted enough; it’s just a matter of getting him knowing that he is capable of doing it."

The guard position is where USC has the most uncertainty. After losing veterans Abe Markowitz and John Martinez, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers and early enrollee Toa Lobendahn took first team reps in spring ball. Although both looked like capable linemen, they still have plenty to accomplish during Fall Camp.

With Aundrey Walker and Jordan Simmons returning from injury, as well as incoming freshman Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivo, all set to compete for the job in the fall, the starting guard spots will be among the more hotly contested positions for the Trojans.

Verdict: Worse

While USC definitely does not lack talent or depth on the offensive line, it does not have the same cohesive unit going into the season that it had in 2013. There is great potential for this group, but their success this year is heavily dependent on two consistent performers to emerge at guard and Zach Banner’s continued realization of his massive potential.