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Monday, March 25, 2013
USC finding best combinations on line

By Garry Paskwietz

One of the primary areas of emphasis for the USC Trojans over the remaining three weeks of spring ball will be solidifying the rotation along the offensive line.

The Trojans return six players with starting experience on the line and there has been a lot of movement through the first two weeks of spring as the coaches look to find the best combination of players. The biggest spot that still needs to be set is at center, as both Max Tuerk and Marcus Martin are potential starters, with Cyrus Hobbi as another option.

To open spring, Tuerk received the first look at center in a somewhat surprising move. There’s no doubt about his mental and physical abilities so it was understandable to give him a look at the open spot, even if he had played both tackle and guard last fall. Tuerk has shown flashes of picking things up well, but the main issue has come with too many fumbled center exchanges. Common sense says that Tuerk will improve over time in that area but, just in case, the coaches had Martin take reps there as well for the final two practices before spring break.

USC coach Lane Kiffin said Tuerk and Martin may alternate at center when the Trojans resume drills on Tuesday. Kiffin also added that both players are two of the top five options on the line, so whoever doesn’t start at center will end up starting at left guard. Hobbi shouldn’t be counted out as a possibility – he is only entering his third year and has looked improved this spring – but right now he is behind those first two on the depth chart.

The primary reserve at left guard to this point has been Giovanni Di Poalo, a fourth-year player who hasn’t been a factor so far in his USC career. If he’s going to make a case for playing time, this would be the time to do it.

At left tackle, Aundrey Walker returns and has been working with the first unit throughout spring. There was a bit of a challenge from Chad Wheeler, who has bulked up to 284 pounds, but Wheeler will miss the rest of spring with an injury, so the job appears to be Walker’s to lose. Walk-on Nathan Guertler, who was at right tackle, will flip to left tackle to take the secon-team reps in the absence of Wheeler. It will be interesting to see how Walker reacts without the threat of competition as his spot is as critical as any to get settled in order for the line to improve.

The right side of the line returns intact for a third straight year and it would have to be considered the strength of the unit.

Kevin Graf is playing at a high level right now and looks primed for a big senior year at tackle. John Martinez is at guard and there was some talk that he could face a challenge from Jordan Simmons. While Simmons has a bright future, it doesn’t look like he is ready to beat out Martinez just yet. Zach Banner is the reserve at right tackle and he continues to work on agility with his tall frame.

One important item to note for the line is how well the players seem to have adjusted to the intense coaching style of Mike Summers. It has to also help to have James Cregg still on staff, a coach the players are familiar with. Now all they have to do is figure out the right guy at center and hope the remaining pieces fall in line.