Oakland (Calif.) four-star offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker is another example of USC head coach Clay Helton giving more than lip service when it comes to re-establishing a physical brand of football.
Vera-Tucker tilts the scales at 6-foot-4, 290-pounds. Most offensive linemen that size will play guard in college. While Vera-Tucker could end up doing the same, current Trojan offensive tackle Chuma Edoga has set a precedent for shorter, athletic linemen holding down the edge.
The No. 19 rated offensive tackle nationally may not have quite the wingspan of Edoga, but his footwork and balance are exceptional at his size. Up from 275-pounds last spring, Vera-Tucker already displayed elite physicality on film as a junior.
His first step in run blocking is tremendously quick and his initial punch during hand placement is devastating. Bishop O’Dowd doesn’t play again Concord De La Salle, but there’s enough of talent on their schedule to see that Vera-Tucker is a bonafide earthmover.
He routinely pancakes defenders without having to wrestle them to the ground. If Vera-Tucker doesn’t submit his defender on initial contact, he will run them out of the play 10-to-15-yards.
In terms of whistle-to-whistle dominance on film, Vera-Tucker is in a Jeff Byers league of destroying defenders. It’s one thing to bounce into the second level of the defense and bury a linebacker, but Vera-Tucker will actual walk a pass rusher forward five yards and pancake him.
Pass protection pancakes are more like crepes. They’re just as sweet, but harder to make.
Vera-Tucker becomes USC’s third offensive line commit. With Trojans projected to take four or five offensive linemen in the 2017 class, Vera-Tucker’s versatility gives them another Swiss Army knife on the roster.
USC will starting lose offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner to graduation next year along with guard Jordan Simmons. Juniors Damien Mama, Toa Lobendahn and Viane Talamaivao will all be draft eligible.
With a good season, USC could have to replace several starters up front, but with recruits like Vera-Tucker signing, the Trojans will have some flexibility in filling various spots.
Expert opinion with Scout National Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins
Greg Biggins first evaluated Alijah Vera-Tucker in the spring of 2015. By February of this year, Vera-Tucker’s stock was soaring with scholarship offers from USC, Hawaii and Washington State. By March, Cal, Washington, Oregon and UCLA had also entered the race for his commitment.
While Vera-Tucker has garnered comparisons to USC sophomore offensive tackle Chuma Edoga, Biggins sees some differences between the two.
“I loved Chuma, and I pushed hard to make him a five-star, so I don’t want to put Alijah in that category just yet,” said Biggin. “I think Vera-Tucker is a lot more raw. He just started playing football in the ninth grade.
“He was a soccer and lacrosse player before that, so he has only been playing football for three years. I think that’s why he’s such a good athlete — he played lacrosse and soccer growing up.
“He’s a naturally gifted athlete that has two things you cannot teach; he’s athletic and he’s tough. You watch him play and he goes until the whistle. I think he’s athletic enough to play either tackle spot, but being 6-foot-4, that’s more prototype guard size. Thing is, he does have tackle feet.”
As a whole, the Trojans recruiting class on the offensive line continues to look promising.
“I like all of those guys,” said Biggins. “Brett Neilon is the prototype center. I think he may have had the best SPARQ rating of any player at that position nationally.
“Andrew Vorhees might need the redshirt the most of the group. He’s not as athletic as the other guys, but USC did offer him a scholarship after watching him throw shot put. He has a great frame and he has definite potential at tackle or guard.
“Austin Jackson is one of the most pure left tackle prospects we’ve seen in a while. Just as an athlete, he might be one of the best offensive tackles I’ve seen this past decade.
“I know USC is a school Leatherwood is showing interest in, although it’s tough seeing him de-commit from Alabama. At the same time, USC always seems to get a couple guys from down South.
“Chuck Filiaga is another guy who grew up rooting for USC. I mean, USC was his dream school, so even though he moved to Texas, you have to still think they have a shot if they keep recruiting him. Aaron Banks is another guy that you have to figure has USC in his top two or three as well.
“I think with the offensive and defensive lines, it’s so hard to find quality talent up front, you take as many as you can get when you can get them. I’d take six of those guys on the offensive line this year and worry about how many I take next year after signing day.”
Recruited by USC offensive line coach Neil Callaway and director of high school relations Gavin Morris, Vera-Tucker’s commitment outlines the direction of the Trojans future offense.
“All of those guys are competitive, tough and I think they’re all pretty good athletes,” said Biggins. “Everyone is big at the next level, so I think USC is trying to find guys who can also move.
“You don’t want to over simplify it because every school wants to have athletic tough guys on their offensive line, but that’s how this offensive line class is playing out for USC.”