Newcomer Notebook: Inside USC

Freshman interior offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao had a couple of low snaps Tuesday night, but his peers and coach all feel that his physicality is making up for his lack of experience.

Shifting along the offensive line isn’t an unusual occurrence during fall camp, but shifting during a series of plays without huddling is.

But Max Tuerk is use to the shell game USC plays with the its offensive line. At Santa Margarita High School, Turek alternated between left tackle and right tackle each play.

“I played guard last year, so I’m getting use to the position,” said Tuerk. “I enjoy being able to be versatile as well as helping the team.

“I played multiple positions in high school, so that has definitely helped me too.”

That versatility is a model for USC’s younger offensive linemen.

“We all look at how Max is so versatility and it makes him more valuable going to the next level,” said freshman Toa Lobendahn. “I think we all relate to that and we try to also be as versatile as we can.”

It’s something offensive line coach, Tim Drevno, obviously preaches from his days with the San Francisco 49ers.

“In the NFL on game day, there are times when you’re playing with eight, maybe seven linemen,” said Drevno. “If you can play a couple of different positions, your value in making that 53 man roster goes up tremendously.”

In fact, USC has three players at center who were all offensive tackles in high school. Toa Lobendahn played left tackle at La Habra High School after playing offensive guard at Lakewood High School.

Viane Talamaivao played right tackle in high school and has now made the switch to playing center at USC.

“Toa is really tough and a smart kid,” said Tuerk. “He’s a great player and I really enjoy working next to him. He’s one of those guys that’s going to give it 100-percent every play.”

Steve Sarkisian told the media Monday night that Lobendahn’s transition to playing center was throttled down during the spring. Having played as a true freshman himself, Tuerk understands the challenges of the position for a first year player.

“I think at center people can get overwhelmed,” said Tuerk. “For me, I like to study and practice my snaps. I like to practice every facet of the position so things slow down for me.”

At this point, Lobendahn is dealing with the high tempo pace of practice as his responsibilities at center increase.

“It’s night and day from spring,” said offensive line coach Tim Drevno. “One, he’s a great kid who is a competitive guy and has great character.

“He’s a hard worker and a student of the game. He’s dad is a coach, so he knows what it takes. Max and Chad (Wheeler) did a good job during the PRP’s getting those guys together.”

Those player run practices over the summer were a trail by fire for Lobendahn.

“Coach basically put it all on me this summer to see if I could handle the pressure of playing all of those positions,” said Lobendahn. “With center, I really have to focus and get my mind set right.

“I have to know which calls I have to make at the line. When Max is in there, I don’t have to worry about it as much. I just have to worry about my decisions and what’s in front of me.

“At center, it’s all about getting in the playbook and seeing the fronts the defense has before you get on the field. You really have to know your fronts and you have to be a confident leader.

“You can’t play intimidated or even think about things twice.”

The game within the game


Moving from guard to center and center to guard mid-series, Drevno sees the challenge being more psychological than physical.

“It’s all about dealing with the pressure,” said Drevno. “Versatility wise, the center has to know what all five guys are doing from a blocking stand point.

“Working next to Max really helps Toa, so I don’t think it’s a huge issue switching back and forth because they’re both intelligent guys.”

That’s not to say the center position doesn’t have its own physical traits.

“You want a guy who can play with his cleats in the ground,” said Drevno. “He has Z in the knee, come off the line with a flat back and has quick hands. He has blue feet, so his feet turn over quickly.

“A center has to have that initial quickness. He has to have that cat like quickness to get on that defensive tackle.”

Tough is a good word to describe Viane Talamaivao. Mauler and nasty are other words that often graced his player profile out of Centennial High School.

While Talamaivao has had a few bad snaps the past two days, neither Tuerk or Lobendahn saw that as an issue going forward 

“He has to fix his snaps and learn his plays, but he’s a straight up monster,” said Lobendahn. “He’s good technically, he just has to get the ball to the quarterback.”

Easier said than done, but low snaps two days into camp don’t worry Drevno.

“He’s on track,” said Drevno. “The guy has never snapped before in his life. We’ll look at the film and see what he is doing, but it’s part of the transition. It’s good for you.”

Practice News and Notes:

  • USC committed linebacker Cameron Smith attended practice with his father Tuesday. Smith says he is done with the recruiting process and will not take any further official visits before enrolling at USC in January.

  • No change for the freshman wide outs or defensive backs from Monday. Adoree Jackson continues to alternate between cornerback and receiver in team periods, but not drills.

  • Freshman Bryce Dixon continues to look good catching the ball in drills. Dixon catches the ball with his hands and adjusts to poorly placed passes well. Dixon had a great catch on a post-corner 20-yards down field.

  • Wide out Juju Smith had a good start to practice with several catches in seven-on-seven and team periods. Smith is making nice grabs in traffic, which is something he was rare forced to do in high school.

  • Freshman wide out Ajene Harris got some reps with the first team offense in the slot. Harris and Anthony Brown are hard to differentiate sometimes wearing No. 18 and No. 16.

  • Freshman linebacker Uchenna Nwosu is looking like a better and better pick up by USC. While Nwosu looked like a lanky tweener out of Narbonne High School, Nwosu has filled out and kept his athleticism. He is setting the edge as a SAM linebacker, yet is fast enough to drop back in coverage.

  • Freshmen corners Jackson and Jonathan Lockett both had pass break ups in seven-on seven.

  • Freshman cornerback Lamont Simmons is the tallest defensive back on the roster for USC.

  • The offensive playbook opened up a bit for Adoree Jackson Tuesday. Jackson ran a larger variety of routes, albeit still somewhat limited.

  • Freshman defensive end Don Hill had a sack Tuesday night. Hill had a Achilles injury that kept him out of spring football.

  • Loyola senior defensive end Christian Rector committed to USC Tuesday night after practice. Rector will likely play the same position that Don Hill and  Malik Dorton are playing now, which is rush end.


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