Junior left tackle Matt Kalil isn’t worried.
Neither is junior signal caller Matt Barkley.
With all of the questions surrounding USC’s season, none has loomed larger than the one regarding the status of its offensive line and supposed lack of continuity.
Three of USC’s five starters from last season either graduated or moved on to the NFL. Of the two who return as starters, only Kalil is playing the same position as last year. But the Orange County native has not bought into the idea that this group of linemen is a work in progress.
“As an offensive line, one of the most important things is having chemistry,” Kalil said. “When you have three starters go, it’s kind of hard to mesh together guys you never played with. I think for us, it was kind of unique for us to come together as fast as we did. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Kalil, along with junior center Khaled Holmes, has had to lead and mentor a young and inexperienced offensive line, as the Trojans’ season opener against Minnesota on Saturday looms ahead. Yet having a select few experienced players such as Kalil and Holmes has allowed the newcomers to grow up quicker than expected.
“[The coaches] are treating us the same,” Kalil said. “We still got a lot of guys that have been here, but the new freshmen that came in, they’ve kind of just meshed in with the group.”
For now, joining Holmes and Kalil on the line are sophomore right tackle Kevin Graf and guards Jeremy Galten and John Martinez, who are a junior and sophomore respectively. The line currently has no senior starters. Other players such as freshmen Marcus Martin and Aundrey Walker have been seeing time in practice.
Martin, a local product of Crenshaw High School, said his road to the top of the depth chart has been more difficult than expected.
“[The learning curve] was a lot bigger than I thought it was coming in,” he said. “I didn’t expect my playbook to be that thick but you adjust. Coming out to this college playing field, you have to adjust and take coaching well. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Though just a freshman, Martin expresses similar sentiments about the unity of the line.
“[The veteran linemen] all look out for me,” Martin said. “They all have my back. They teach me and we all work well together.”
With the youth and inexperience of the offensive line, even Barkley admits he was initially a little nervous about the line’s prospects.
“We didn’t have any depth,” Barkley said. “[The line] was young. Really only Matt Kalil was the same guy playing the same position as last year. But we’ve come a long way since spring ball to where we are now. We still have some puzzle pieces moving around up front, but I like how they’re coming together.”
Changes along the offensive line are nothing new for Barkley. Including this coming season, he has had at least two different starters at every position along the line since he stepped on campus in 2009.
So what has Barkley done to let his line know it has his trust?
“Well, I always tell them, ‘no one touches No. 7,’” Barkley said with a grin. “And they know that if they give me time, we’ll move the ball … If they get their job done, then we score.”
“The biggest focus is finishing fourth quarters,” Kalil said. “We’re going to get after guys a lot more than we did last year.”
A key reason for that, Kalil insists, is the team’s core of young players.
“You kind of have to be humble,” Kalil said. “Once you come here as a freshman, you know, it starts all over … [the new guys] did a good job of asking us questions, watching film with us. They’re a great group of guys.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated center Khaled Holmes as a senior. Holmes is in fact a redshirt junior.