Entering the longest break from football of the year, the Trojans largest position group wants the mindset to be short and sweet. Working under an offense that requires quick decisions at the line of scrimmage just seconds after the previous play finishes up, the line has one mindset heading into summer workouts.
“We don’t (wanna) think,” Damien Mama says, entering his second year with the program. “We want this to be a non-thinking situation and just go.”
That starts with preparation, both understanding the play and knowing how to attack the defensive front. Insert new offensive line coach Bob Connelly, and the line has focused their sights on keeping starting quarterback, Cody Kessler, standing tall and comfortable in the pocket. Led by three-year starter Max Tuerk, the 6-foot-9 mammoth, Zach Banner, and the emergent trio: Mama, Viane Talamaivao and Toa Lobendahn, these guys are confident in what they bring to the line of scrimmage.
Then you add last year’s starting left tackle Chad Wheeler, who spent most of spring football rehabbing on muscle beach, along with Jordan Simmons, Khaliel Rodgers and Nico Falah and USC is starting to assemble some legitimate depth.
Regarding the depth of the offensive line, with the young freshmen starting right from day one: “I applaud them for stepping right in and making plays,” Banner said, before updating his position heading into year two under head coach Steve Sarkisian. “We are (now) one of the best offensive lines in the country.”
That’s a confident statement, but Banner and company truly feel that they have the pieces in place to dominate the line of scrimmage every single play. Add another full year under the system, and the offensive line is starting to think on the same page –slowing things down before the snap and focusing on their given assignment.
Coach Connelly recognizes that swagger and asked his guys to do even more, taking that inherent size and strength while losing some unnecessary weight. One player that has taken that challenge to heart is Damien Mama. He looks healthier than ever before, dropping over 20 pounds since the new year, and Mama was the first to admit that the loss has drastically helped him attack defenses at full strength.
“Definitely. I feel a lot better, and my legs feel good,” Mama admitted. “They are thanking me, and everything just feels right.”
We saw a brief glimpse of that speed at the spring game. It was a passing display for sure, but Cody Kessler was barely touched as the pass protection was on point with 22,000-plus fans anxiously wondering what to expect for the upcoming season.
“Coach loves being balanced. He doesn’t want to be called a pass team, or a run team. He always wants to get us our fair share cause he knows as offensive lineman we love running the ball. And just having that back behind us makes us feel good.”
Mama’s comments speak large, especially coming from an offensive lineman that possess some of the quickest feet in the country for his size. But in order to play at such a prolific pace over four quarters, USC’s line will have to adopt the philosophy from Connelly: executing with speed and strength as fast as possible.
Last season, USC ran more than they passed (524-460), averaging four yards per rush and just over eight yards per pass attempt. That’s to be expected, but the Trojans could see a huge improvement in their red zone rushing attack this season with another year of reps, along with some lighter feet pulling up in the hole.
“You see us pulling around and that’s a lot of girth,” Banner notes. “(But) I think how we play, and the intensity we play at is even more intimidating.”
We know Sarkisian wants to stretch the football down field with more regularity, and the running game hopes to follow suit, but more lean bodies anchoring the offensive line will do wonders for simplifying the overall game plan.
The offensive line wants to come together as a unit, forging their growth from spring football into the offseason before fall camp practices get rolling in August. In the meantime, this unit wants to forge ahead in mastering the playbook.
As the team heads into summer workouts, the big focus will center around whether the Trojans’ offensive line can build on a solid spring and incorporate the faster tempo as larger part of the offense for the upcoming season.
“The more we know, the quicker we can play,” Mama said. “Then it can all be about (just) executing and competing.”
Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for more updates on the team as they prepare for the upcoming 2015 season.