Role Review: Offensive Line

All week long SCPlaybook will review each Trojan position group--a recap of their respective performance in 2011, what's expected in the offseason and what's to come in terms of recruiting. Now examining USC's offensive line...

Looking back on the 2011 season, nobody could have expected USC's offensive line would have been as great as they became.

We ridiculed them. We said Kiffin was playing musical chairs, even coming up with the acronym GOTD as new players became the "guard of the day" even as late as week three.

But, in hindsight, this line rarely messed up. In one of the Trojans' two losses, against Stanford, the offensive line was not to blame. (Arizona State was not their best game, but one bad game of the bunch is really not that bad).

Initially there were only questions and doubts. Moving Khaled Holmes to center and John Martinez to guard seemed unusual, even with Holmes' neck stingers. And starting true freshman Marcus Martin and relying on a heavy passing attack early in the season more than the Trojans' typically balanced offense made some wonder how confident Kiffin was of his line.

And it was clear, in these personnel moves and press conferences, he wasn't. At first.

Midway through the season, his tune changed. The media stopped writing the line off and players entered each game with a massive chip on their extremely tall and broad shoulders.

Holmes' early snapping trouble didn't prove longlasting. John Martinez was extremely consistent at right guard and Kevin Graf seemed to bring a renewed focus to his spot at right tackle.

Martin struggled, as would many freshmen. By season's end, however, he reduced his mistakes and looked entirely more mature and composed. Barely 18, the Crenshaw (Calif.) product and Freshman All-American had understandable growing pains. It's why he was the first true freshman to start at guard for USC since 2004.

If you're wondering where Kalil is in all this, I purposefully didn't mention him. Sure he was the best contributor on the Trojans' line this season, but I'm not convinced he's staying another year (despite blowing off rumors and withholding any form of announcement). So, in order to look ahead at 2012, I will do so without him, assuming he departs for the NFL.

If he doesn't, clearly the Trojans are in a much better place. The line probably wouldn't change that much, except perhaps for more rotating with redshirt freshmen Cody Temple replacing Holmes and Cyrus Hobbi subbing in for Martin late in games.

Alas, another caveat comes in the form of Abe Markowitz. Two consecutive seasons sidelined the Honolulu (Hawaii) Punahou redshirt junior. Entering his senior season, Kiffin typically likes to give younger players a shot ahead of the veterans if they are similar in skill level. But Markowitz has a huge breadth of knowledge and of the playbook that he might prove to be too valuable not to play in 2012, if he can remain healthy.

And we can't talk about 2012 without mentioning the Year of the Linemen. Scout rated this incoming recruiting class as perhaps the greatest for offensive linemen in years--if not ever. And USC has capitalized on whatever talent it can get.

Beginning with Crespi (Calif.) lineman Jordan Simmons, who mainly played guard in high school, told SCPlaybook that Ed Orgeron projects him at right tackle in college. If Kalil leaves, one would assume Kevin Graf would go back to his natural position on the left and the gigantic Aundrey Walker from Ohio will start at right. This leaves Simmons, who hopes to play early, to back up Walker, if all goes according to plan. Subbing in for Graf could be USC commit/Santa Margarita High's Max Tuerk or current Trojans Nathan Guertler or Jeremy Galten.

As it is now, there's still too much unknown. Whether Kalil will leave for the NFL, or Markowitz will play at full strength or USC can bring in even more linemen in prospects Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Arik Armstead or Zach Banner, we don't have all the answers yet.

Until then, Trojan fans, it seems you are left doing what you have done the past two years under the postseason sanctions: wondering "what if…"

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