In an article last week we wrote about how the USC running backs are well equipped to play a big role in the Trojans' increased commitment to the run game in 2013.
No amount of running backs will matter, however, if the Trojans offensive line is not doing its job as well.
When the Trojans were developing their reputation as “Tailback U” they were doing it behind offensive linemen such as Ron Yary, Anthony Munoz and Brad Budde. You aren’t going to get any better than that group. In recent years USC has produced first-round selections such as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil, but it hasn’t been the consistently strong group that the Trojans have seen in the past.
In order to help meet the stated goal of controlling the line of scrimmage, USC coach Lane Kiffin brought in veteran offensive line coach Mike Summers to oversee the group while also keep previous position coach James Cregg on staff as well. Summers has experience in a man blocking scheme -- as opposed to the zone blocking that Cregg taught the last three seasons -- and his fiery, old-school style has resonated well with players so far.
The projected starting five that Summers inherits currently has Aundrey Walker at left tackle, Max Tuerk at left guard, Marcus Martin at center, John Martinez at right guard and Kevin Graf at right tackle. Those five players have combined to start 84 games at USC, so there is plenty of experience, but they have yet to show they can be a dominant force up front.
Of course, a big part of the reason why they have not shown that is because they haven’t been asked to carry that kind of load. That will change this season according to Kiffin. The Trojans did increase the physical contact in practices this spring, even as the injuries piled up, in an effort to further develop a mindset of toughness
It’s important to note that the starting group is not completely set, as Kiffin has indicated that there will be competition in fall camp. While the depth should be better in 2013 than it has been in recent seasons -- particularly with redshirt freshmen Jordan Simmons and Chad Wheeler making good progress -- it stands to reason that the starters will likely come as listed above since they represent the five best options at this time.
There are still question marks that must be answered before the line can be considered a strength -- primarily the maturity of Walker at left tackle and the need to solidify Martin as the replacement for Khaled Holmes at center. No player is more of a question mark than Walker, a guy with tremendous physical gifts but one who also suffers lapses such as the missed assignment which led to the clean shot on Matt Barkley by UCLA's Anthony Barr that ended Barkley's Trojans career.
The right side of the line has remained unchanged over the last two seasons, as Martinez and Graf have started next to each other for 25 straight games. There is a lot of pride in this unsung pair and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the senior duo lead the way for the line in 2013. Both players have talked about how important it is for them to change the fortunes of the Trojans away from what happened in 2013, and the ability to control the offensive line of scrimmage will go a long way toward making that happen.