USC football progress report: Alijah Vera-Tucker is most critical Trojan for 2020

Alijah Vera-Tucker may be the most important player for USC football in 2020.

USC football has a tough task transitioning the offensive line after losing two starters, but Alijah Vera-Tucker should make that process much easier.

The redshirt junior is back for a second year as a full-time starter with hopes of building off of last year’s excellent campaign.

It’s time to look at Vera-Tucker’s Trojan career thus far…

USC football progress report on Alijah Vera-Tucker

What USC got as a recruit:

Vera-Tucker was one of five offensive linemen USC brought in with the class of 2017. He joined Austin Jackson, Brett Neilon, Andrew Vorhees and Jalen McKenzie as the next generation in the trenches.

For Vera-Tucker specifically, hopes were high. With a 6-foot-4, 291-pound frame, he had clear potential along with positional versatility as either a guard or a tackle. His efforts at the high school level helped Bishop O’Dowd claim the state Class 5-AA championship.

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Recruiting services saw his talent as well. He was the No. 114-ranked player in the class and 14th among offensive tackles. In the state of California, he ranked 14th.

What he’s accomplished:

With USC’s offensive line fairly settled in 2017, and Vorhees and Jackson jumping to the head of the line for early playing time, Vera-Tucker redshirted in Year 1.

The 2018 season brought about 12 games of playing time as a backup, though serious conversations in the fanbase wondered if he warranted a starting role based on his strong performances.

Finally in 2019, the starting opportunity arrived. He played all 13 games at left guard and was a Pro Football Focus third-team All-American selection. The AP named him a first-team All-Pac-12 player. USC voted him Offensive Lineman of the Year.

What to expect in 2020:

Coming into his redshirt junior season, Vera-Tucker is considered one of the top guards returning. The real question is whether he’ll play guard at all.

Given the departure of Austin Jackson and the graduation of Drew Richmond, USC has holes to fill at tackle. As the Trojans’ best returning lineman, it makes sense for him to take over the most important offensive line position: left tackle.

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Vera-Tucker was meant to debut in that role during Spring Camp, but the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown and prevented him from getting valuable practice time at his new position. Fall Camp will have to be enough for him to settle in ahead of a difficult matchup with Alabama.

If he takes to the position, Vera-Tucker could be in contention for the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s best lineman. If he doesn’t, the option would remain to slide him back to guard where there are no doubts about his ability.

Where he goes from here:

Vera-Tucker opted to come back for the 2020 season because he needed more time as a starter to raise his draft stock. He’ll get that opportunity and then will likely have a much more difficult decision after his redshirt junior year is up.

The lineman could opt to return for another season with the Trojans, but already he is already being touted as one of the top linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft pool. Another strong season would put him in the “likely to declare” category.

Like Jackson before him, Vera-Tucker’s ceiling could be high enough to attract a first-round pick. At worst he is likely to expect a Day 2 selection.

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