March 11th marks the start of USC spring practice, a time when slates are swept clean and position battles begin anew. Steve Sarkisian and his new staff will get their first real look at the 2014 squad, which means Trojan fans also have a chance to start fresh evaluating the players who will make or break the new season.
This week at Reign Of Troy we’ll be taking a look at what to expect from each position group, beginning with the offensive line:
Seniors – Giovanni Di Poalo (RS), Aundrey Walker
Juniors – Cyrus Hobbi (RS), Max Tuerk
Sophomores – Zach Banner (RS), Jordan Simmons (RS), Chad Wheeler (RS)
Freshmen – Nico Falah (RS), Toa Lobendahn (EE), Khaliel Rodgers (RS)
Incoming – Jordan Austin, Chris Brown, Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao
Aundrey Walker, Max Tuerk, and Chad Wheeler represent the returning offensive line starters from the 2013 season and there is no reason to believe any of the three will lose that status. The biggest question for these players is which particular line position they’ll find themselves in after the spring ends.
Wheeler should nearly be penned in as the left tackle while Walker’s place at guard is secured, assuming he returns as planned from a broken ankle, though he could play on the left or right side of the line. Tuerk’s versatility was relied on last season as he could fill in at nearly every position. That same in-season versatility will give new offensive line coach Tim Drevno plenty of options in composing his starting line up during the spring. Tuerk’s position could very well depend on which players step up as they battle for starting jobs in other positions. If there is a void at any particular spot, Tuerk could easily fill it.
As for the heir apparents to starting positions at right tackle and center left vacant by Kevin Graf and Marcus Martin, the picture is rather muddled.
Cyrus Hobbi can claim a start to his name at center but that game against Stanford is one he’ll want to leave off his resume. A more likely figure to emerge for the center position is Khaliel Rodgers or early enrollee Toa Lobendahn, though Rodgers will have a significant step up with a year of experience under his belt.
Both Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons are coming off season-ending injuries in 2013 — the former had hip surgery in the fall and the latter suffered a freak knee injury in October. If healthy, they both should compete for starting positions; Banner would be in play at right tackle and Simmons could be a favorite at the guard spot not filled by Walker. If unhealthy, Banner’s spot will be challenged by Nico Falah.
UPDATE: Hobbi is no longer part of the USC program, which means Rodgers and Lobendahn will duke it out for the starting position. Alternatively, Tuerk may slide to center.
Most Likely To Keep Their Starting Job: Max Tuerk
Most Likely To Lose Their Starting Job: Aundrey Walker
Battle To Watch: Center
Most To Gain From Spring: Toa Lobendahn
Most To Lose From Spring: Jordan Simmons
More position previews: