USC Football’s offensive line has tons of potential — for both success and failure. Which way will their fortune swing in 2017?
Of all the units which may determine USC Football’s fate this season, the offensive line stands as the biggest question.
After losing Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler and Damien Mama to the NFL, the Trojans have several replacements to find.
Let’s look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Trojan offensive line in 2017:
All the veteran pieces fall into place without a hitch.
As many questions and concerns lay on USC’s offensive line heading into 2017, it is also one of the Trojans most veteran units.
A line up of Nico Falah, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao, Chris Brown and Chuma Edoga, in any combination, includes a redshirt senior, two true seniors, a redshirt junior and a true junior. That’s a whole lot of experience and development across the board.
That’s also a group which includes one five-star, Edoga, and four four-star prospects when they came out of high school.
Even though the Trojans lost two All-Americans at tackle, a best-case scenario for the offensive line involves that unit taking a step forward in Year 2 under offensive line coach Neil Callaway.
Callaway may not have had a full complement of players available to him this spring due to injuries, but working with the group for a second year and maintaining continuity could be a key to success in 2017.
If USC fields an offensive line group that gels early, with five experienced and capable figures who reach their potential, the sky is the limit for the Trojans.
When USC produced two Heisman Trophy finalists in 2005, there were three Trojan offensive linemen on the All-Pac-10 team, making that feat possible. There are no less than three potential all-conference players vying for places on the 2017 offensive line.
Mixing and matching offensive linemen, USC never settles on a steady line up.
As much of a potential strength as the offensive line is going into the season, it’s also the unit with the greatest potential to become USC’s Achilles heel.
The worst-case scenario was on full display during spring camp, when the Trojans never really got a look at their best five.
If Lobendahn can’t regain his form after a second season-ending knee injury, if Falah’s back problems persist, if Talamaivao’s elbow injury lingers, if Edoga and Brown stagnate, USC will have a serious problem on their hands.
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There are options to stand in if any of the ideal five are unavailable, but the more the Trojans are forced to chop and change, the more stability and chemistry will be disrupted.
And while USC brought in a promising class of offensive linemen with the class of 2017, leaning on youth is certainly not ideal. The more young players forced into the line up, the more raw, inconsistency the Trojans will have to deal with.
There are too-many injury prone players in USC’s offensive line plan for the unit to progress smoothly in 2017.
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Chances are there will be one or two hiccups and hurdles throughout the season — it seems impossible to imagine a Trojan offensive line going wire-to-wire with the same five starters.
Still, USC is due some injury luck on the offensive line and the Year 2 boost under Callaway should be a real phenomenon.
With that in mind, the Trojan offensive line shouldn’t be a complete disaster, or even the weakest link in the chain.
Moreover, the presence of quarterback Sam Darnold should give the line some leeway as they develop through the season.
Darnold’s escapability bailed out the Trojans in key moments in 2016 and he’ll be bringing the same kind of play to the table in 2017.