The replenished offensive line will be looking to take the next step towards greatness when USC football kicks off spring camp on March 3.
Returning starters: Max Tuerk (Sr.), Chad Wheeler (Jr.*), Zach Banner (Jr.*), Toa Lobendahn (So.), Viane Talamaivao (So.), Damien Mama (So.)Returning players: Jordan Simmons (Jr.*), Nico Falah (So.*), Khaliel Rodgers (So.*), Jordan Austin (Fr.*), Chris Brown (Fr.*)Newcomers: Chuma Edoga (EE), Roy Hemsley (EE)Departures: Giovanni Di Poalo (Sr.*), Aundrey Walker (Sr.), Nathan Guertler (Sr.*)
Stockpiling the offensive line in 2014 has left the cupboard overflowing for USC heading into spring camp.
Even with Chad Wheeler’s injury likely to keep him out, the Trojans have a platoon of talent to work with on the line, including a full host of returning starters.
Max Tuerk will begin his senior season looking to polish his performances at the center positions. Spring will be a chance to continue to work on his snapping, which was hit or miss in 2014.
Though it appears Toa Lobendahn will continue to hold down the fort at left tackle, the now-sophomore could get a look in at center, which is projected as his natural position.
The X-factor at left tackle for the Trojans this spring is early entrant Chuma Edoga, a five-star prospect with the size and athleticism to compete for playing time right away. Though it will be difficult for Edoga to break into the starting lineup, these early practices should allow him to build a platform to launch into the rotation in the fall.
Edoga’s arrival complicates matters for redshirt freshman Nico Falah who saw time in just three games in 2014. The departure of former walk-on do-everything player Nathan Guertler could open the door for Falah to find a place in the rotion behind returning right tackle Zach Banner.
Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans offensive tackle Zach Banner (73) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Banner begins 2015 on the back of a full season as a starter and with his position fairly secure. His spring will revolve, like Tuerk’s, around development and polish.
The picture is more muddled at guard.
Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao finished the season as the starters at left and right guard respectively. The latter earned the starting job by the second game of the season and kept it throughout.
Mama, on the other hand, began the year as the starter but lost out to Talamaivao and floated around as a part of the rotation before beating out Khaliel Rodgers before the Notre Dame game at left guard.
Rodgers has been in the program longer than his younger teammates and was expected to earn a starting job heading into 2014, but he was set back when he hurt his knee going into the season opener.
Though Mama has undisputed talent, Rodgers needs to make a push this spring to avoid being the odd man out in 2015.
The same fate could await Jordan Simmons, who missed last year’s spring and fall practice while rehabbing a knee injury from 2013. He participated in just one game for USC in 2014 and has a lot of ground to make up if he wants to see time in 2015.
Last year’s freshman redshirts Jordan Austin and Chris Brown will also attempt to make a run at earning playing time this season, but it is more likely that they and early entrant Roy Hemsley will be mostly focused on using practice time to develop for the future.
With a new offensive line coach in Bob Connelly, there’s also the consideration that every player participating in spring camp comes in with a blank slate, much like the whole team did in Steve Sarkisian’s first season.
Battle to watch: Mama vs. Rodgers
Who has the most to gain? Edoga has been touted as a potential freshman contributor, but no one would blame him if he couldn’t overtake the established players ahead of him. At the same time, earning a starting job by the end of spring would mean he had exceeded even the highest expectations.
Who has the most to lose? Rodgers is a redshirt sophomore competing with a trio of true sophomores who look set to occupy their positions for the foreseeable future. An underwhelming spring could bury him further on the depth chart than he could hope to climb out of for a number of years.
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