The USC football program has been built to succeed at all levels, beginning with the hogs up front. Fall Camp is set to begin on Saturday, which means now is the time to take a in-depth look at some of the best talent the Trojans will send to the practice field for this upcoming season.
As one of many new coaches on campus this fall, Mike Summers, Formerly of Kentucky, will serve as the Trojans’ offensive line coach. Despite having only one returning starter last season, Summers impact was rather immediate in Kentucky. The Wildcats’ front managed to lead the way for an offense that averaged 6.1 yards per play, the second-best mark in school history, despite only retaining one starter from the previous season.
Last season was quite the game of musical chairs for the Trojans offensive line. One in which a lack of depth (i.e. Stanford), poor execution in goal-line situations (i.e. Notre Dame), and shaky pass protection (i.e. the Anthony Barr hit against Matt Barkley) contributed to the Trojans’ 7-6 season.
Since the strength of every team rests from the offensive line outward, the ultimate success or failure of the offense will rest in the hands of the line.
Here is a preview on all things offensive line with tidbits on projected starters, along with strengths and weaknesses of the largest unit in sports:
Biggest Loss: Khaled Holmes
Although starters return at four offensive line spots, the loss of 2012 Rimington Award finalist Khaled Holmes cannot be discounted. The three-year starter excelled on the field and in the classroom, as he made the All-Pac-12 first team, Academic All-American second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team last year. He was ultimately a fourth-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
Strength in Numbers This Season
Last season an offensive line short on depth and experience allowed Max Tuerk to become the first true freshman to ever start at left tackle for the Trojans. This year’s club is much deeper, as Holmes was the only departing lineman from 2012. With 85 career starts returning, including four players who made the preseason All-Pac-12 team, this should be one of the best offensive lines in the conference.
Projected Starting Five:
Senior tackle Kevin Graf and guard John Martinez will be the experienced anchors of the Trojans offensive line this season. Life on the line has required plenty of adjustments for Graf, playing three different starting positions and overcoming an injury-plagued redshirt season in 2010.
Last season as the Trojans’ right tackle, Graf won the 2012 Co-Lifter of the Year award, while also recording one tackle on a turnover. Fellow Trojans OG John Martinez, who has amassed 25 career starts over the course of his career, was awarded All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season.
Junior Marcus Martin returns for another season after starting the past two years at guard, and is the Trojans prohibitive favorite to replace Holmes at the center position. After losing his starting tackle position midway through last season, Aundrey Walker will be in the running for an tackle spot. His replacement, the 2012 Freshmen All-American first teamer Max Tuerk, will rotate all across the line, with the ability to play all five positions.
BEST OF THE REST:
Senior tackle David Garness, junior interior lineman Giovanni Di Poalo, sophomore center Cyrus Hobbi (yes the same Hobbi who started against Stanford last season) and tackle Zach Banner, who has fully pledged his commitment to football moving forward, are among the strongest reserves on the Trojans roster.
Redshirt freshmen tackle Chad Wheeler, who was injured this spring, and redshirt freshman guard/tackle Jordan Simmons, USC’s Offensive Service Team Player of the Year, will give the Trojans major contributions in the hustle and scout team department. Walk-ons, Nathan Guertler and Erick Jepsen complete the Trojan Hogs on the line.
All-American tackle Nico Falah (St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, Calif.), and guard/center Khaliel Rodgers (Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md.) were the only members of the 2013 class to play on the offensive line. Both have legitimate chances to play this season and with the necessity for depth on the line always at a premium, expect these freshmen to become stalwarts on the line for years to come.
Head coach Lane Kiffin has called upon his offensive line to make massive strides this upcoming season, something the loaded group can certainly achieve. After struggling to run the football with success on third and short last season, an increased emphasis on pounding the rock will make a drastic impact.
That being said, the combination of at least four returning starters, with an excellent freshmen class makes the Trojans depth and experience a bargaining chip in the offensive play scheme. Combine that with an increased emphasis on feeding Silas Redd and others the rock, the Trojans are bound for an excellent year in the running game which should alleviate pass-protection concerns.