The offensive line is the first line of defense for the offense. Take a second to digest that. But what it really means is that the offensive line’s main responsibility is to block. They need to make sure the defensive linemen or the other defensive players don’t get through them and sack or tackle any of their offensive players. Although they tend to be the most “lowkey” men on the field, they have one of the most important jobs– if they fail at their role, then the offense fails.
Instead of going on and giving you a lesson on what an offensive line is for a football team, let’s talk about the offensive line for the USC Trojans. The offensive linemen at USC have found great success, both in college football and after, in the NFL. Currently, there are 9 ex-USC football players in the NFL, including names like Ryan Kalil, Matt Kalil, Tyron Smith and Khaled Holmes.These men protected the offense better than any other offensive line in the country, which has lead to the Trojans’ success for several decades. However, last season was a bit different. Prior to this last season, the Trojans lost their starting left tackle, Matt Kalil who was selected as the 3rd overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings. This left a big hole in their offensive line. Additionally, during several games throughout the season, Khaled Holmes, the starting center for the Trojans was injured.
To fill Kalil’s spot, Lane Kiffin chose sophomore Aundrey Walker. Walker is a gifted athlete who has the power and the body to be a huge threat on the offensive line. In 2012, he started 8 games in the left tackle position, but didn’t show signs of being a star– simply put, he didn’t meet the expectations of the coaches and the fans that had tracked his progress since his freshmen year. However, Walker acknowledges that “he didn’t have the best year” and that there is much room for improvement. When Walker wasn’t starting at left tackle, freshman Max Tuerk took his spot. Now that Walker is in his 3rd season at USC with experience under his belt, there is a chance that he will start at the left tackle spot, however, nothing is set in stone. There had been talk that he might move to the left guard position, allowing Tuerk to become the starting left tackle; other sources say that Tuerk will move to the left guard spot. Clearly, the two positions left of center are up in the air and we will just have to wait and see who the coaches assign.
Another change has taken place on the offensive line. With Khaled Holmes now playing for the Colts in the NFL, Marcus Martin, the 3rd year left guard will now be playing at the center position. Martin showed a smooth transition during spring practice, but we won’t know his true ability until we see how he plays during a game. Also, we don’t know who Martin will be snapping the ball to (I’m referring to the quarterback) and that can make a huge impact on his success or failure in his new spot.
One position that has remained the same is the right guard spot– a spot which belongs to senior John Martinez. Martinez has 25 career spots and has been the full-time right guard for the past 2 seasons. Last season, he was 2012 All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
The final spot on the offensive line is the right tackle. Kevin Graf is the man who has 25 career starts at this position. He is in his 5th year at USC, but the starting right tackle job might not be secure for Graf. Rick McMahan of Bleacher Report writes that “Kevin Graf, may lose his job to redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler if the spring dept chart is any indication of the possibilities”. Wheeler enrolled at USC in the spring of 2012 after graduating a semester early from high school and redshirted. Beating out Graf for the starting spot would definitely be an accomplishment for Wheeler, but it seems like experience might play a role and allow Graf to start, at least in the beginning of the season.
The offensive line has a more important role than ever this year because the starting QB can be someone who has played in a couple games (Max Wittek), someone who has completed 2 passes in a game (Cody Kessler) or someone who enrolled at USC in the spring of 2013 and despite his several accolades in high school hasn’t thrown in a college football game (Max Browne).
There are a lot of uncertainties on the offensive side of the ball for the USC Football team, and the offensive line is a unit that you don’t hear much about. The coaches will have to examine the players again and name their starters by the start of the season. One thing I predict for this upcoming season is that the starting offensive linemen for the first game of the season won’t be the same 5 men at the end of the season; if they fail to protect and block, then they will be benched.