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USC’s Starting Offensive Line for 2008, A Tough Bunch!


Last week, I projected what should be the starting backfield for the Trojans opener against the University of Virginia, who, by the way, Las Vegas projects as 18-point underdogs.

But that’s the Vegas line, not mine. I will wait until the Trojans get set to put in their game plan during the final week of August. With PAC-10 Media Day set for this Thursday, July 24th, we are still two weeks away from open competition. So, at USC that is what this time of year is all about – competition.

With regards to the offensive line, first, let me address what many college football fans and the media describe as the Trojans’ main and perhaps only weakness in 2008. They point to the loss of five starters as reason for concern. And why not? This season the offensive line must replace Sam Baker, Drew Radovich, Matt Spanos, and Chilo Rachal as well as the Macke Award-winning tight end, Fred Davis.

With any other team in college football this is a major red flag that signals a rebuilding year. But not at USC. Even the critics are quick to point out Pete Carroll’s recruiting success and how he is always ready to reload with several high school All-Americans.

While that is true, the critics often overlook the two most important players in shoring up the Trojans offensive line. No, they are not starters. In fact, they will never start a game at USC or anywhere else for that matter.

Offensive line coach, Pat Ruel, and conditioning coach, Chris Carlisle, are the gears that drive the big wheels on that O-line. Ruel is arguably the top O-line coach in the nation, college or pro. Carlisle, who is responsible for the conditioning of all the athletes on the team, will make sure that those new recruits and the returning linemen are bulked up in all the right places.

Through Carlisle’s efforts to get the most out of his players physically and Ruel’s ability to get the most out of them technique-wise, USC will again have the best O-line in the PAC-10 and one of the best in the nation.  They will indeed by a tough bunch.

With that said, here are my predictions for the starting front seven.

First of all, anchoring the O-line will be the two returning starters from 2007, Jeff Byers at left guard and Kris O’Dowd at center.

After returning from successful back surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2006 season, Byers started every game last year, 12 at left guard and taking over at center in the Washington State game for O’Dowd.

Backing up Byers at left guard is redshirt freshman, Martin Coleman. The 6-5, 315-pound 2006 high school All-American is coming off shoulder surgery in 2007. If Byers remains healthy, Coleman could find himself vying for one of the tackle positions.

In 2007, Kris O’Dowd became the first freshman to start at center for USC. O’Dowd then missed six games after dislocating his right kneecap in the Washington game. However, unlike the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, O’Dowd was able to return for the final three games – a tribute to Carlisle’s conditioning and the athletic medicine program at USC.

O’Dowd followed up the season with arthroscopic surgery and appears ready to compete once more for that starting center spot. The 6-5, 300-pound sophomore should be equal to the task.

The competition really heats up on the other side of O’Dowd at the right guard spot, where Zack Heberer and Thomas Herring will compete for the starting spot.

As a redshirt freshman last year, the 6-5 300-pound Heberer started 2 mid-season games against Stanford and Arizona and played in 12 overall. The 6-5 300-pound Herring, a redshirt junior appeared in the first 7 games before dislocating his kneecap and did not return.

If Herring is healthy, it should be quite a battle. Add true freshmen, Khaled Holmes, a four-star recruit from Mater Dei and brother of former Trojan tight end, Alex Holmes, to the mix and that battle may reach epic proportions. But I predict Heberer will emerge as the starter, and Holmes will see significant playing time on special teams and as a backup.

The competition at right tackle involves Alex Parsons and Nick Howell. The 6-4, 300-pound Parsons switched from the defensive tackle to offensive tackle last season and saw action in all 13 games primarily on special teams. Parsons can also play at guard or center. The 6-5, 275-pound Howell from Fresno can play either tackle spot and center as well. Recovering from hernia surgery last season, Howell only played briefly against Notre Dame.

Joining the competition at right tackle is five-star freshman recruit from Servite High School, Matt Kalil, the brother of USC All-American Ryan Kalil. The 6-7, 280-pound Kalil is my pick to start the opener at right tackle.

On the left side, the battle is between redshirt junior Charles Brown and redshirt sophomore Butch Lewis. The 6-6, 295-pound Brown started the Idaho game and appeared in eight other contests. The 6-5, 300-pound Lewis had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle prior to spring practice. He appeared in 10 games last fall and started the Notre Dame, Oregon State and California games. He was a Sporting News Second-team All-Freshmen and a PAC-10 first team All-Freshmen.

Breathing down their necks for that left tackle spot is 6-6, 270-pound freshman, Tyron Smith, who made just about everybody’s high school All-American team. Next to Kalil, Smith has the best chance of all the O-line recruits to win a starting spot. But, if Lewis’ ankle is a hundred percent, I expect him to win out.

As is the case with both Tyron Smith and Khaled Holmes, once they have a good grasp of Pat Ruel’s blocking schemes and the offense in general, either one or both could work their way into the starting lineup as the season progresses.

Finally, we come to the tight end spot vacated by Washington Redskin first-round draft choice, Fred Davis. There are no less than four formidable candidates vying for significant playing time at that position.

Anthony McCoy, a 6-5, 255-pound junior is the projected starter and #1 on the depth chart. McCoy was Davis’ backup last year and appeared in all 13 games. He caught a two-yard TD pass against Nebraska and a 16-yard pass in the Washington game.

Rhett Ellison and Jimmy Miller both had good spring practices along with McCoy. Ellison is a 6-5, 250-pound redshirt freshman. Miller, a redshirt senior, saw very limited action in 2007.

Rounding out this foursome is the top tight end recruit in the nation, Blake Ayles. Like Tyron Smith, this 6-5, 255-pound freshman from Orange Lutheran was everybody’s high school All-American,

Once Ayles learns the pass route’s and Pat Ruel’s blocking schemes, he could forge his way into the starting lineup. But based on his experience and knowledge of the offense, Anthony McCoy will be Pete Carroll’s choice to start the opener at Virginia.

There you have my starting offensive line predictions for the opener against the Cavaliers. Do you agree or disagree? As always your comments are welcomed.

Next week, I will take a look at USC’s stellar defense, which should give Todd Boeckman and Ohio State all they can handle.