Coming out of spring the offensive line is still one of the units on the team that needs to get shored up in the fall, and how that comes together will have a big impact on the overall success of the offense.
There are several reasons why things are still in flux:
1. We never saw the expected starting line-up in action primary due to the fact that projected starting center Toa Lobendahn was held out of contact drills. Toa is the veteran of the group and has starting experience up and down the line but he doesn’t have a lot of work at center. It’s long been thought to be a good spot for him and he opened the 2016 season there before suffering a knee injury but there is still the uncertainty of the fact that he wasn’t out there getting the reps with the other four starters (LT Austin Jackson, LG Chris Brown, RG Andrew Vorhees and RT Chuma Edoga). I thought Edoga had a pretty good spring, including some spirited one-on-one battles with Porter Gustin in pass rush drills.
2. What is the offensive scheme? There were some mixed messages from the coaches in spring about how the run game and offensive scheme will be handled. Clay Helton said the offense will not change, that it will be the same offense that has been in place since he was named head coach. Tee Martin said he wants to be the Golden State Warriors of college football with the ability to attack with explosive plays. But then Helton also talks about the addition of Tim Drevno to the staff, and how the Trojans ran more plays with the quarterback under center this spring, and used more two-back sets. And after the scrimmage two weeks ago (which was the most successful day for the offense in spring) Helton said that was the blueprint for what the USC offense should be by running between the tackles and then hitting some deep balls. It will be very interesting to see how things evolve in the fall with the run game and how it is used.
3. Who emerges at left tackle? Austin Jackson is the presumptive starter with so much potential and I still think he ends up there when all is said and done but he didn’t completely shut the door on Clayton Johnston in spring. It was a combination of the fact that Austin missed enough days with minor injuries and Johnston has evolved his game to the point where the coaches are comfortable putting him out there on either side at tackle.
4. Who emerges as the depth contributors? We already mentioned Johnston and he can be considered the top reserve for both the right and left tackle spots. I also like what we saw from Jalen McKenzie at the reserve right tackle spot, he’s a physically strong guy who moves well. At the guard spots, the guy I was most impressed with was Alijah Vera-Tucker and he was lining up behind Andrew Vorhees on the right side. Jordan Austin and Frank Martin were behind Chris Brown at left guard. The coaches know what Jordan can do from his appearance in the Pac-12 title game while Martin is still trying to find his role (we also saw Frank take a few reps at LT). With Lobendahn out we saw a lot of Brett Neilon and Justin Dedich, both have bright futures and got a lot of praise from Helton for their play.
5. How do Callaway and Drevno work together? Callaway is the current USC OL coach while Drevno is a former USC OL coach who is now the RB coach and run game coordinator. What will that mean? We don’t know but you get the sense they share similar philosophies when it comes to running the football.
Projected depth chart
LT: Austin Jackson, Clayton Johnston, Liam Douglass
LG: Chris Brown, Jordan Austin, Frank Martin
C: Toa Lobendahn, Brett Neilon, Justin Dedich
RG: Andrew Vorhees, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jacob Daniel
RT: Chuma Edoga, Jalen McKenzie