Toughness on the O-line

Coaching a young, inexperienced offensive line can be frustrating at times, especially when you were coaching NFL Pro-Bowlers just a little over nine months ago.

USC offensive line coach Tim Drevno has been pleased with his line’s play so far. They faced a tough Stanford defensive front this past weekend and had a great first showing against Fresno State two weeks ago. Drevno has been with them every step of the way and it’s not like he doesn’t know how to coach collegiate offensive lines, as he did the same thing four years ago at Stanford. Over the course of Drevno’s two years of coaching the offensive line at Stanford, his players only let up 13 sacks, good for second in the nation both seasons. He knows he can’t expect that output from USC’s young offensive line right away, but he’s still satisfied with the line’s performance thus far, especially against Stanford.

“They competed,” Drevno said. “The whole team competed at a very high level. That line never panicked, just stayed within the moment. Fixed problems on the field and we got one more point than they did.”

Considering the depth at other positions on the roster, the offensive line is a very deep position for USC. Drevno stated before the season that he wanted to get a rotation of eight to ten guys playing consistently and even though only about seven have rotated in and out during the first two weeks, more linemen could be on the way as they become healthy. Until then, Drevno is still taking it slow in regards to his rotation.

“It’s still the same,” Drevno responded when asked about his offensive line rotation. “It’s day-to-day. We’ll see who competes at a high-level. They’re all very good football players. We’re blessed here at USC to be able to recruit the best talent in America. We’ll see how it fits in the game plan and how we rotate, if we do rotate at all.”

Is Drevno comfortable with the current seven man rotation?

“I don’t know,” Drevno said. “Maybe and maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll just go five guys. I don’t know. We’ll just see as the week goes.”

USC started two true freshman on their offensive line for the first time ever in a season opener this year, those two lineman being Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama. Even though they may be young, Drevno still has high expectations for them. In fact, he doesn’t even see them as being freshmen.

“They’ve done a great job,” Drevno said. “They’re not freshmen. You can’t think of yourself as a freshman because you’ve got to compete at a high-level every down.”

It’s hard for freshmen offensive linemen to come into college and earn a starting spot right away. You see one freshman starting on the offensive line for some teams in the power five conferences, but you rarely see two freshmen offensive linemen come in and start right away. So who or what can be credited with helping Lobendahn, Mama and Viane Talamaivao earn early playing time?

“Well I think it all starts with the PRP’s, player run practices, this summer,” Drevno said. “I think the leadership of the team and helping them learn the system is really good. I think the way coach Sark, the way we practice, really helps. There’s a lot of reps throughout the day. If it’s a walk through, to on the field, to a teaching session. It’s all structured really for you to take it in the classroom, learn it, (then) to go on the field and rehearse it, and then go live as the period goes on.”

The first two games of the season couldn’t have been any different for this offensive line. Against Fresno State, the offense ran a conference record 105 plays, while against Stanford the offense ran only 59 plays. An outsider might think it may be hard for the line to transition from game to game, but Drevno doesn't think so.

“No, we just kind of get what’s dealt to us,” Drevno said. “We got to fix the problems. We should have had more plays. We didn’t convert on third downs. We had a lot of three-and-outs. But we had one more point than they did at the end of the game so that’s all that matters.”

The mindset of an offensive lineman is unique. They do the dirty work that a lot of other players really don’t want to do. So what gets them fired up about the position? Drevno says it’s all about the run blocking.

“Oh yeah, if you’re an offensive lineman, you like running the ball,” Drevno said. “I mean we got to pass-block too, there’s times, but coach Sark says we’re a running football team and he said that from day one. As a line coach, you got to love that.”

USC’s offensive line faced an experienced group on Saturday as Stanford boasted multiple All-Pac-12 caliber players. However, the line passed the test and now move on to Boston College. What does the Eagles’ defensive line have in store for the Trojans?

“They’re a very veteran front,” Drevno said. “Very, very good. Very physical up front. Very well coached. Multiple defensive fronts. We really got to be on our ‘A’ game. They do a nice, nice job there and they play extremely hard and physical. Like I said, multiplicity so it’s a true challenge for us.”



Marshall Cherrington will be attending USC and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism beginning in January of 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @MWCherrington.


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