Offensive line welcomes back wealth of experience
As the Trojans enter the 2013 season, the team’s offensive line has a surprising amount of stability. Even with the departure of three-year starter Khaled Holmes, the unit returns five players who have starting experience. The primary goal in fall camp was figuring out which combination of players gives the team its most effective unit.
Fourth-year offensive line coach James Cregg is joined on the line by Mike Summers, who will coach the offensive line alongside Cregg and serve as the running game coordinator.
Summers, who most recently held the same title with the Kentucky Wildcats for three seasons, brings an impressive pedigree and a wealth of experience to the coaching staff. He has coached both at the collegiate and professional level and his impact has already been felt at USC.
Summers and Cregg have many former four- and five-star high school recruits to work with on the line, and multiple players have displayed a knack for versatility thus far.
Junior Marcus Martin, who has spent the majority of the last two years at left guard, will spend this season at the center position. Though he had success at guard, the transition to a new position is one that Martin has fully embraced.
“I’m excited about it,” Martin said. “There is a big future there, and I’m happy to be playing center, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Martin’s shift has created a vacancy at left guard, and the staff has had to move another player to fill the void. Enter sophomore Max Tuerk, who last season made USC history as the first true freshman to start at left tackle. Tuerk started at left guard for the first time last season in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech, and earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention honors for his strong freshman season.
Joining Tuerk on the left side of the line will be redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler. Arguably the biggest surprise of fall camp, Wheeler is a local product of Santa Monica High School and has gained more than 60 lbs. since he arrived on campus.
“It’s just hard work,” Wheeler said of his improvement this offseason. “It’s on every side. It’s not just strength, it’s also the technical aspects and knowing the playbook.”
The duo of Tuerk and Wheeler has certainly made an impression on USC head coach Lane Kiffin, who has been impressed by his young players’ performance.
“Those two kids are playing great together,” Kiffin said. “They have a great mentality about the game.”
Opposite of Tuerk on the interior line is a position battle for right guard. Incumbent senior John Martinez and junior Aundrey Walker, who has starting experience at left tackle, are vying for playing time. Martinez has started 25 consecutive games at this position, though Walker took the majority of the first-team reps toward the end of fall.
The Trojans have continuity at the right tackle position with senior Kevin Graf. With 25 starts under his belt, Graf is a veteran in the program and provides leadership and experience for the rest of the line. “Fall camp went very well for us,” Graf said. “This offensive line is coming along very well, and we just have to keep it going into the season.”
Though the unit has experienced many shifting parts thus far in the fall, it has the talent and experience to gel together and act as a formidable force for the team. It will soon be evident whether or not this combination gives the Trojans’ offense the power it needs to push the pile while also providing the time for the quarterback to direct a potent aerial attack.