USC Football 2015: Previewing the Offensive Line


Last season’s glaring concern, starting three freshman on the offensive line, has become a true strength for USC football, as first-year Trojan assistant Bob Connelly gets his unit ready for the upcoming season.

RELATED: Max Tuerk adds extra dimension to USC offensive line

Led by senior center Max Tuerk, the line seeks to improve upon what was one of the more impressive efforts of the 2014 college football season. Starting three true freshmen in the game of football is no small feat, yet the Trojans flourished while doing so out of necessity. USC now aims to cash in on that investment this season.

Championships are won in the trenches, and these battles will help define the 2015 USC football season.

A Trojan run game that produced in excess of 2,400 yards, 160 rushing yards per game a season ago, will attempt to eclipse those marks by first adopting, then enforcing Coach Sark’s “bully” mentality.

Loose ends in the form of penalties and sacks must first be addressed before the Trojans can reach the levels they have set for themselves.

What We Learned in Spring:

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans guard Damien Mama (51) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the dedication of true sophomore Damian Mama, who has trimmed 40 pounds since the end of 2014, is any indication of what’s on the horizon in Troy, the Trojan offensive line has a chance to be unstoppable this season.

The addition of Connelly as the offensive line coach was met with raised eyebrows earlier this year, but the players have raved about their new position coach in the spring.

Camp also opened up opportunities for players like Nico Falah and Jordan Simmons who impressed as they attemp to work their way into the rotation.

What Could Go Right:

The Trojans return all five starters from a positional group that serves as the bedrock for its offensive identity. Led by Tuerk, a preseason All-American, the line should greatly benefit from the stability of an offseason in which football is the sole focus.

The depth across the line could give USC a welcome problem to contend with.

Should Chad Wheeler return to full strength before the season begins, the men of Troy would actually have six returning starters for five starting jobs.

With Wheeler back, the scenarios are endless and full of possibility. If he slots back into the left tackle spot, Toa Lobendahn could shift into his natural position at center. That would allow Tuerk to slide into his own natural place at guard.

Even Tuerk stays in the center and Lobendahn was utilized elsewhere, USC’s line is set up to be not only one of the most talented in the nation, but the deepest.

Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama were excellent for freshman starting in year one, but with that experience they project as truly dominant sophomores.

Zach Banner at right tackle has the size to prove a monstrous presence up front and his development could also supply USC with a major asset in his second year as a starter.

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans offensive tackle Chad Wheeler (72) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What Could Go Wrong:

Lobendahn earned Freshman All-American honors as his replacement but there are indications that Wheeler’s absence had a knock on effect for USC in 2014. Prior to his injury, the Trojans averaged 4.34 yards per carry. After, they averaged 3.39 yards per carry.

Though there are many factors that can be taken into account when analyzing those numbers, Wheeler’s absence marks a major drop off in USC’s ground production.

With that in mind, a prolonged recovery process could limit the heights the Trojan line could achieve in 2015.

Should Tuerk suffer and injury of his own, shuffling on the line would create instability that could do the same.

SEE ALSO: Max Tuerk named to Rimington Award watch list

The Tuerk-snapping issue also deserves mention. Though the senior center has worked this offseason to correct the poor snapping which plagued him in 2015, a lack of improvement on that front could have great consequences.

Bad snaps create the obvious problem of potential turnovers, but they also disrupt the rhythm of the offense in less obvious ways. If Tuerk cannot get his delivery sorted out, the entire offense would suffer.

From a coaching perspective there is also the Connelly question. If the line does not gel under his tutelage, there is plenty of talent to go to waste.

More from Reign of Troy

Projected Depth Chart:

  • LT: Toa Lobendahn, Nico Falah
    • Chad Wheeler*
  • LG: Damien Mama, Chris Brown
  • C: Max Tuerk, Kahliel Rodgers
  • RG: Viane Talamaivao, Jordan Simmons
  • RT: Zach Banner, Jordan Austin

Overall Strength: 9/10

Even if several things go wrong, the USC offensive line should still be one of the top units on the squad with so much depth to counter troubles that arise.

Already one of the larger offensive lines, the Trojans also boast one of the most athletic offensive lines in college football.

Consecutive great recruiting classes has allowed the Trojans to secure top in-state talent and early development strides mean USC will not lack up front.