USC Football Spring Camp Review: Offensive line provides stability

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football’s offensive line showed encouraging progress throughout Spring Camp, with a veteran lineup providing a steady foundation.

USC football came into Spring Camp with four returning starters on the offensive line even though two Trojan starters graduated on to the NFL.

The continuity helped the Trojans build a solid base for the offense, but there remain questions over at least one starting position.

Here’s how the offensive line fared this spring…

Roster Rundown

Returning (13):*Toa Lobendahn, RS-Sr.Jordan Austin, RS- Sr.*Chris Brown, RS- Sr.*Chuma Edoga, Sr.Jacob Daniel, RS-Jr.Clayton Johnston, RS-Jr.Frank Martin, RS-So.Austin Jackson, So.*Andrew Vorhees, So.Jalen McKenzie, RS-Fr.Brett Neilon, RS-Fr.Alijah Vera-Tucker, RS-Fr.Justin Dedich, Fr.

Fall Enrollees (1):Liam Douglass, Fr.

*Returning starter

The decision to hold Toa Lobendahn out of spring practice as a precaution changed the dynamic of the line somewhat. What could have been a completely full-strength front was instead anchored by redshirt freshman Brett Neilon.

On the plus side, Neilon held his own and proved in the event of an injury to Lobendahn that he is a solid replacement.

The rest of the line did feature bang on starters like Chuma Edoga, Andre Vorhees and Chris Brown going through the motions with more than enough experience under their belts by now. It showed too. Though USC’s defensive front had a strong camp as well, it wasn’t at the expense of the first team line.

At left tackle, Austin Jackson and Clayton Johnston remained neck and neck in their race for the starting job.

The questions crop up further down the lineup.

Alijah Vera-Tucker seemed to take a step forward and establish himself as the favored backup to Brown at left guard.

A combination of Jacob Daniel, Jordan Austin and Frank Martin filled in the second team at right guard.

Jalen McKenzie seemed fairly settled playing tackle with the second team, while one of Jackson and Johnston covered the other side.

Early enrollee Justin Dedich was thrown into fire at center thanks to the medical retirement of Cole Smith. He held his own despite his inexperience.

The second team had the tougher job on most days, blocking USC’s first team defensive front and it showed.

Biggest Winner

USC may be the biggest winner with both Jackson and Johnston proving capable left tackles, with no drop-off to speak of as the two switched back and forth this spring.

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When you break it down though, Johnston is the one who benefits most from that arrangement. Jackson is a more prototypical left tackle, albeit a more inexperienced one. That Johnston was able to keep it close and not concede the battle before the fall was a statement.

Biggest Disappointment

Lobendahn’s absence was a major disappointment, but as a redshirt senior there really isn’t much he needs to prove.

But Smith’s retirement is a more pressing concern from spring.

USC’s depth at tackle is now worryingly thin. There is a bit of a buffer thanks to Johnston’s versatility, being able to cover either side of the line. Still, Edoga’s penchant for picking up injuries could put the Trojans in a tough position.

Behind the core three of Edoga, Johnston and Jackson, there’s really only McKenzie, who is still in a development phase.

Smith could have been another valuable body, one who had shown some real potential before his knee injury ahead of the 2017 Rose Bowl.