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O/NSO: Lining up edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC

The Obvious: If the USC Trojans are going to have a successful 2016 season, no unit could have a bigger impact as it pertains to winning or losing than the offensive line under first-year O-line coach Neil Callaway.

The Not So Obvious: In receiving a media copy of Phil Steele’s national preview magazine, the respected publisher writes the 2016 Trojans offensive line is the best in the country. Steele writes, “(Last season) they improved to 4.5 yards per rush. This year they only lose their center (Max Turek) and have 15 VHTs (Very Highly Touted Recruits). Last year’s injuries make them even more experienced, and they get the call as my top rated O-line.”

The Obvious: The Trojans offensive line will be challenged by a stout Alabama defensive front on Sept. 3 in Dallas.

The Not So Obvious: If Phil Steele’s proclamation that the Trojans offensive line is the best in the country, the opening game against Alabama will certainly be an early litmus test. The truth is that the Trojans offensive is quite capable of being one of the country’s finest, but that may not be apparent against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense front, which will be loaded with future NFL draft picks.

The Obvious: One of the interesting areas of the Trojans offensive line will be the return of veteran junior lineman Toa Lobendahn, who is coming off of knee surgery but has been participating in summer drills.

The Not So Obvious: While Lobendahn has been rehabbing, the Trojans have gotten a good effort from junior Nico Falah. Most expect that Lobendahn will reclaim his starting center position, which he inherited when Max Tuerk went down with his own knee issue. However, there is no telling how offensive line coach Neil Callaway will view Lobendahn, given the fact that the former veteran SEC line coach did not have Toa’s services last spring. It all makes for a rather intriguing fall camp.

The Obvious: Like Trojans sophomore offensive lineman Chuma Edoga before him, junior center/guard Khaliel Rodgers has taken some snaps on the defensive line during recent summer workouts.

The Not So Obvious: Whether either Edoga or Rodgers actually play on the defensive line will probably get down to any further injuries to an already acknowledged thin roster of defensive linemen. Rodgers, who played defensive line his first couple of year in high school, initiated to the coaches the request to play on the D-line. At 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Rodgers would make a rather large nose tackle and, like Edoga, would add depth. This recent Rodgers move makes the opening of August camp all that more tantalizing, although the O/NSO suspects Edoga will remain on the offensive line while Rodgers could stick on the defensive front.

The Obvious: In terms of depth, the Trojans are loaded at center if you actually include Khaliel Rodgers along with Toa Lobendahn, Nico Falah, and redshirt freshman Cole Smith.

The Not So Obvious: What once was a lack of depth, the offensive line has made huge strides in recruiting and restocking the shelf. No position shows that depth more clearly than at center. There should be no immediate alarm if the injury gremlin appears. If Khaliel Rodgers does stick with the defensive line, the offensive line depth should still be in good shape, especially center. If the Trojans have a question mark in terms of offensive line depth, it could be depth at tackle, but even that looks in good shape with the improvement of some of the younger linemen.

The Obvious: In Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, he has the Alabama offensive line ranked No. 4 nationally.

The Not So Obvious: Certainly the competition for bragging rights to No. 1 offensive line in the country, according to Steele, will be at stake in early September. The Crimson Tide return three starters, but the most vital piece to their O-line machinery, all-star junior Cam Robinson, is questionable for the Trojans after avoiding criminal charges on allegations for weapons and illegal substance. If Alabama head coach Nick Saban plays Robinson, the Crimson Tide’s offensive line figures to take a backseat to nobody and will anybody be shocked if he does?

The Obvious: Legendary sportswriter, member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, and USC graduate Joe Jares passed away last weekend at the age of 78 from a chronic lung disease.

The Not So Obvious: With the recent loss of legendary USC broadcaster Tom Kelly, the loss of sensational journalist Joe Jares, a member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, sports editor for the Daily Trojans, former college football and basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, and once a Trojans freshman basketball player is another sad announcement.

The Obvious: Joe Jares was a frequent visitor to Trojans sporting events, especially the press box during home football games in the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO first met Joe many seasons and ago, and although I can’t say we were close buddies by any stretch, he was a super nice guy who never used his elite status in the sports writing field to make one feel inferior or subservient. Like Tom Kelly, he could tell USC sports stories with the best of them.

The Obvious: USC has produced a number of legitimately great print sports journalists, and you could argue for hours who would be on the Mount Rushmore of Trojans sports print journalists.

The Not So Obvious: From a writers perspective, certainly Joe Jares would be part of that mountain, and you could also place writers like Allan Malumud, Mal Florence, and Mel Durslag. And carve out a spot for WeAreSC’s own Steve Bisheff, a member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. And even though he didn’t graduate from USC, certainly the late Loel Schrader of the Long Beach Press-Telegram also deserves a place on the mountain.

The Obvious: The late Mal Florence was one of the great former Trojans journalists who actually covered the Cardinal and Gold for The Times.

The Not So Obvious: One of the cool Florence stories was when Mal was writing for The Times and Bill Dwyre, a Notre Dame graduate, was the sports editor. After many heated exchanges ripping the other’s alma mater during a USC/Notre Dame Week, Florence secretively received permission to have uniformed members of the Trojans Marching Band parade into Dwyre’s office and play ten minutes worth of “Fight On.”

 The Obvious: Trojans junior preseason All-America corner Adoree’ Jackson fell short last week of his long jump bid to make the Rio Summer Olympics.

The Not So Obvious: Having given his all, Adoree’ seemed to have no regrets on not making the USA Olympic team. Jackson will now his attention to football, and the big question will be how long will it be until No. 2 makes his first appearance in summer workouts?

The Obvious: And finally, California summer high school all-star football games, once an event for starving football fans during the heat of July, have become almost a thing of the past, thanks to most “stars” enrolling early in college during the spring semester of their senior high year or heading to their collegiate campus destination in June.

The Not So Obvious: One high school all-star football game, however, that still continues a draw a strong following is the Orange County All-Star Football Game, which will be played tonight (Friday) at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. Kickoff is 7 p.m., and if you’re looking for a pigskin fix, this might be the game that scratches that itch. No future Trojans will be performing, but there’s still enough talent to keep one’s interest.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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