Kiffin concerned with offensive line

What asked what area of his team is his top concern after cornerback USC head coach Lane Kiffin answered with his offensive line. Kiffin says they have a ways to go in order to get where they need to be come fall...

The offensive line sometimes goes unnoticed and undetected during portions of USC practices. They run drills on the far side of the field from the media. They practice against the defensive line on the far field while skill players are running through 7on7 action front and center on Howard-Jones.

The offensive line is a quiet unassuming group of players who after Monday's depth chart was released are now in the spotlight.

The defensive front-seven played well throughout the spring, there's no question.

But how much of their play was determined by a lack of physicality by the offensive line… and how much of the offensive line's problems were due to the strength of the defensive line?

That discussion could make you talk in circles for hours.

But during Monday's conference call with head coach Lane Kiffin, he made it clear that it is the offensive line that has a ways to go before the Trojans can be an effective run team and before those quarterbacks can drop back and make all their checks before chucking the ball downfield.

"We want to get back to being a physical team and obviously that starts up front," Kiffin said. "After the Arizona game people really just started to play us different. It already started that way, but we got so many deep safeties in cover two and we just weren't able to run people out of it. We've got to make defenses be honest against us and play the run and that will obviously start with the front."

Kiffin went so far to say his top concern after the cornerbacks situation, is his offensive line. "We are really are getting better up there we did make some strides this spring," he said. "But we have a long ways to go."

With the graduation of senior center Khaled Holmes the Trojans were faced with finding a new man to anchor the line. Kiffin first decided it would be sophomore Max Tuerk at center before a week full of fumbled snaps caused him to try senior Marcus Martin at the position. Kiffin said after a week that Martin showed promise and he said it again after the conclusion of spring practices. "He really responded well," Kiffin said. "That's the direction we'll go with him being the center."

Redshirt senior John Martinez maintained his starting role at right guard though spring drills… but now it's the rest of the line that gets a little tricky.

In somewhat of a surprise finding, redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler -- who missed significant time during spring practices due to injury -- is listed as a co-starter at right tackle with Kevin Graf.

You may recall in the SCPlaybook spring preview, Graf and Martinez seemed to be locks on the right side of the line, both would be three-year starters. But Kiffin said Wheeler showed enough "flashes" during the time he was healthy to open the competition at right tackle… while Graf's progression wasn't enough to keep his name alone a'top the chart.

"We're very excited about what [Chad Wheeler] showed," he said, "how tough and physical he was playing."

"I think Kevin [Graf] had an up and down spring," Kiffin said. "I think we have – Coach Summers has done a great job of addressing that with him and showing him a great plan of how to improve and get better."

Meanwhile, the left side of the line remains a concern. Though Aundrey Walker is listed as the lone-starter at left tackle, Kiffin admitted that is really more a function of not enough numbers more so than strong play by the junior. "It's really that not that Aundrey [Walker] had the greatest spring ever, there's only a walk on player behind him," Kiffin explained. "It's not really that Aundrey outplayed everybody, it's just a numbers spot of where we are at." Recruited as a possible left tackle, Kiffin and staff have determined that redshirt freshman Zach Banner is not an option at the position and Banner will train as a right tackle.

And then you slide in to left guard where it looks like Tuerk has found a home. Tuerk is listed as the lone starter and his play figures to be little concern his sophomore season after sharing left tackle duties throughout his freshman year with Walker.

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