Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The USC Trojans have seen a recent shuffle across the offensive line, making waves for a mammoth of a lineman in 6’7″, 290-pound Chad Wheeler. It seemingly began when presumed LT starter Aundrey Walker went down with a slight injury on Monday.
Like many situations of sudden rise to stardom, the grind of Fall Camp presents the Trojans plenty of opportunities to work out the kinks before the season’s opening kickoff. The opportunity for Wheeler has pleasantly surprised head coach Lane Kiffin early in camp.
I’m kind of excited to see what it looks like on film,” Lane Kiffin said about Wheeler’s performance at left tackle for the past three practices. “Chad looks really good over there; any time you get a position like we have at outside linebacker which is very good…it makes our tackles have to work and continue to get better.”
While Walker continues to run with the first unit on the offensive line, All-Pac-12 honorable mention Max Tuerk has slid inside to the guard position, “one that naturally fits his skill set,” said offensive line head coach Mike Summers.
In the midst of the Fall Camp grind, the Trojans have had success pounding the rock on the edge, largely thanks to the success of the play at tackle. “Every day as an offensive lineman, you just like to put your hand in the dirt and fire off the ball,” said Summers. “I hope they listen to me and nobody else.”
Now in his sophomore season on campus, Wheeler missed most of spring practice with a knee injury and spent the summer in the weight room bulking up for the upcoming season.
“He carries the weight well, he’s very athletic,” said Summers, talking about Wheelers new frame. “The added weight gives him more power and more punch when he gets off the ball.”
His improved play on the practice field comes against the Trojans outstanding linebackers in Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard. Despite the recent positive hoopla, head coach Lane Kiffin summed up Wheeler’s future with the first team in a short, yet concise statement of authority.
“It’s too early to tell whether he will stay on the left side,” said Kiffin after watching only two or three practices with the first team. “Chad has shown some positive signs, which will definitely lend him an opportunity on our line down the road at multiple positions.”
Wheeler figures to play a prominent role in the Trojans’ plans moving forward as only a sophomore on a young line.
“Where we got holes we have the best five guys in here,” said Summers about the shifting happening across the line. “I want to teach them how to kick slide, teach ’em how to come off the ball and then when we have an opportunity to fill someone.”
After starting for the third straight day in the USC Fall Scrimmage, Wheeler continues to rack in the reps at left tackle. With quick hands, a solid understanding of the offense and ever-growing confidence in his abilities, Wheeler continues to spark some discussion about starting August 29th.
“You guys must have caught up in that one movie or something,” Summers said jokingly–while referring to “The Blind Side”–about whether Wheeler could play left or right tackle. “But to me its about who can be the best five guys out there.”