After solidifying themselves as a cornerstone piece on the 2016 Rose Bowl winning USC Trojans, the offensive line unit heads into this season with big question marks. After losing both starting tackles in (All-American) Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner as well as left guard Damien Mama (who opted for the draft after three years), there are big shoes (literally, those guys are huge) to be filled. On top of that, the Trojans lost their starting right guard Viane Talamaivao to bicep surgery earlier in the spring, however expect him to make a full recovery before the season opener come September.
There, that’s the bad news. Now for the good news.
Assuming that Talamaivao makes his expected recovery and Nico Falah (starting center) avoids injury, that leaves three positions to be filled. Well, basically two. That’s the beauty of having Chuma Edoga on your team. I know the big boys don’t usually get noticed until they get called for a false start or a hold, but they deserve some praise. Guys like Edoga make it easier for coaches, as he can fill in for either tackle position and perform at a high level.
Also more good news for this Trojan offensive line, they’re EXTREMELY flexible. Falah can also play tackle, making him capable to fill either spot with success. Oh, and don’t forget about Toa Lobendahn, who was originally the starting center for last year before tearing his ACL. While he can play center, his natural position is left guard (where he could fill in for Mama), or he can slide all the way out to left tackle again, where he started five games in 2014.
Here’s a couple scenarios for the starting offensive line:
LT: Brown LG: Lobendahn C: Falah RG: Talamaivao RT: Edoga
LT: Lobendahn LG: Brown C: Falah RG: Talamaivao RT: Edoga
LT: Falah LG: Brown C: Lobendahn RG: Talamaivao RT: Edoga
LT: Edoga LG: Lobendahn C: Falah RG:Talamaivao RT: Smith
Yes I realize, there are two names in there I haven’t written about yet: Chris Brown and Nathan Smith. However, one name seems much more likely to fill that final position than the other, that being Chris Brown (not the singer). Brown was used as a utility player for USC’s O-line last year, and he is expected to assume a permanent starting role this season. Brown’s original position is left guard, however he can also transition to left tackle if needed.
While the redshirt freshman Smith is talented, his knee injury could hold him back from playing this season, and at the very least prohibit his ability to impress the coaches all offseason to earn the starting gig.
What about further injuries to the unit?
Should there be any further injuries expect to see familiar names shuffled, as well as potential new faces from backups Clayton Johnston (OT) and Jordan Austin (OT/OG). Let’s also not forget 2017 top recruits in Andrew Vorhees, Austin Jackson and Alijah Vera-Tucker (all OTs). While the Trojans offensive line took quite a hit this offseason, coach Neil Callaway has versatile, hardworking guys ready to step up and hopefully, lead the way once again.