Thursday, January 24, 2013
USC roundtable: 2013 offensive line
The Trojans only lose one player on the offensive line, but there could be a lot of shuffling in spring ball. Give your thoughts on how you think the two-deep along the line will shake out.
LT – Aundrey Walker, Chad Wheeler; LG – Max Tuerk, Marcus Martin; C – Cyrus Hobbi or Marcus Martin; RG – John Martinez, Jordan Simmons; RT – Kevin Graf, Zach Banner
The Sun Bowl provided a peek into the coaches' thought process on the left side when Walker was at tackle and Tuerk at guard. Tuerk had seemingly taken over the tackle spot when he was inserted into the lineup midway through the season but the long-range thought is that he would fit better at guard, so that’s where he was for the bowl game. I don’t think this combination is set in stone by any means and it could change based on what transpires in spring ball. The center competition should be interesting between Hobbi and Martin; the wild card could be the coaches taking a look at Martinez at some point if the other two don’t provide a clear answer. The presence of Simmons would make it easier to move Martinez, if need be, because the coaches think Simmons has a real bright future. Graf is a solid fixture on the right side at tackle in his third year as a starter.
RT Graf: Although he should have been the starting left tackle last season, he is simply too experienced and valuable to be moved. A potential All-Pac-12 selection.
RG Martinez: Martinez next to Graf the past two years has been effective. Can he play better? Sure, and as a senior he probably will. He and Graf form a nice 1-2 punch.
C Martin: He is the obvious choice after working out at that spot during Sun Bowl practices. Marcus is very intelligent and a center leadership role could fit nicely. He needs to get stronger, especially if he has a physical, 3-4 nose tackle over him.
LG Walker: The Walker experiment at left tackle was, well, not very successful. Let’s give him a try inside and see how physical he can get. He needs to show consistency and dedication to the game or he easily slips to the second unit.
LT Tuerk: Perhaps better suited for left guard, but his attitude, aggressiveness, and now game experience should pay dividends at left tackle in the spring. As he bulks up, he could be an elite performer at left tackle.
LT Wheeler: Shhhhh. Here is the sleeper of the offensive line. He entered Troy a project in terms of body weight, but he has the attitude and the drive. If he doesn’t still get overpowered and can be physical, he can play.
LG Simmons: This redshirt could end up a starter if he has the desire to do so. Being a redshirt freshman, you’d think he’d be ready to go. He’s certainly big enough, and many believe that he has a very bright future ahead of him. Would not shock here if he gets the chance, he beats out Walker.
C Khaliel Rodgers (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy): We’re putting him at center because that’s where he’ll start out, but I see him as a guard. He plays nasty and physical, and he was tremendous in U.S. Army All-America Bowl practices and the game. Center or guard, it’s just a matter of how fast he picks things up upon his arrival.
RG Hobbi: Playing as a true freshman center against the mighty Stanford defense was a mismatch. With Khaled Holmes out, Hobbi physically learned the hard way against the Cardinal, but he did learn. Some say he’s a guard, so we’re about to find out in the spring.
RT Banner: A young giant that appears to have it all in terms of attitude and emerging athletic ability. Banner is on the Trojans' basketball team, so that speaks well of his athleticism. He is certainly one to watch in the spring and also should also be tried at left tackle.
While they only gave up 17 sacks on the year as a unit – overall, the performance of the offensive line was definitely less than perfect, especially in regard to the run game. As such, I definitely think the coaches will be spending plenty of time here in the spring and into the fall trying to find the right combination.
With the departure of Khaled Holmes, the center position is the focal point, and the prime candidate to take over looks to be Martin. A starting guard for much of the past two seasons, the coaches moved him during bowl game preparations with an obvious eye pointed toward next season. Hobbi and Rodgers – a physically mature Class of 2013 commit – look like the most likely backups there. Tackle Graf and John Martinez have started for the past two seasons on the right side, and I don’t see that changing in 2013. But keep an eye on guard Simmons and tackle Banner. Both redshirt freshmen could challenge the veterans in front of them if there are any dips in production.
On the left side, I really liked the move of Tuerk to left guard in the Sun Bowl. The Trojans’ offensive lineman with arguably the brightest future ahead of him, he’s a natural fit at the position. The left tackle spot is Walker’s to lose right now, but he certainly had some trying times in 2012. Banner and Wheeler – another redshirt freshman who impressed during practices this past fall – will push him, and if he doesn’t respond, don’t be surprised if either of them land atop the depth chart.