If the Trojans were competing against Hawaii this weekend at the Coliseum rather than conducting an open practice, Aundrey Walker would be USC’s starting left tackle. After moving from right tackle to left tackle early in Spring Camp, Walker has shown enough for Kiffin to call him the favorite, which calls to question when USC’s 5-star offensive tackle out of Washington, Zach Banner, will get playing time at USC.
At 6’9″, 310 pounds, Banner fills the size requirement left by Matt Kalil, who will play in the NFL this fall, but the play of Walker far outweighs the height of Banner. Walker has gone from an over-sized novelty last fall, to possibly being one of the offense’s most important players, in just a matter of eight practices since Kiffin moved Kevin Graf to right tackle in exchange for Walker.
With Walker in the mix at right tackle for the foreseeable future, Zach Banner has to be redshirted. Maybe it was the plan from Kiffin all along, but given the lack of scholarships for the next few seasons and the talent ahead of Banner, it would be a mistake for Kiffin to waddle and play Banner as an experiment to burn a season of eligibility, like he did last year with Walker, George Farmer and Amir Carlisle. Side note: burning a year of Carlisle’s time in college doesn’t seem so bad, now that he’s in South Bend with the Fighting Irish.
Moving on, let me preface this by saying that Lane Kiffin went from being an overrated coach to an upper echelon coach a matter weeks in 2011, so by no means was last season a failure on his behalf. But, if you’re going to knit-pick about Kiffin, it’s going to be about a lack of scholarship managing when it comes to redshirting players. Aundrey Walker could and should be a freshman this season when hits the field, rather than the sophomore that he’s listed as. While Walker has tremendous size and would be a possible early-NFL entrant, there’s no reason to see his eligibility differently than a player who is going probably not play in the NFL, like a Martin Coleman for instance. Yet, Kiffin has alluded to draft stocks before, when referring to his wide receivers.
In college football, talent isn’t always seen in the depth chart, as seen by Cody Kessler being listed third on the depth by John Manoogian, to preserve Kessler and Wittek’s redshirt, even though they were battling to back up Matt Barkley and not Manoogian. The same should have been done for Walker in a backup role as a freshman, and Banner, who will presumably backup Walker this fall. Ideally, working Banner in as a backup wouldn’t be a bad idea, but given the scholarship restraints, there’s really no other option, when there’s already built-in backups, like Jeremy Galten, who can play both tackle and guard.