Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

USC loses five heaviest players as Damien Mama declares

In less than a week, USC's beef in the trenches has significantly thinned with graduations, transfers and Damien Mama entering his name for the NFL Draft.

Four days ago when USC took the field for the 103rd Rose Bowl, it featured an offensive line that averaged 318 pounds and had two experienced backups that were 315 and 325 pounds, respectively. The Trojans also had a stout 6-foot-1, 320-pound, 25-year old vet manning its nose tackle position on the defensive side.

On Friday, junior left guard Damien Mama posted on Twitter and Instagram his intentions to declare for the NFL Draft becoming the sixth 300-pounder the Trojans will lose this offseason.

"Growing up as a Trojan fan it was, and still is, an honor and childhood dream come true to have attended the University of Southern California," the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Mama wrote. "I will forever consider my education within this campus to be one of my most prized accomplishments."

"With that said, I have decided to forego my senior year of eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft."

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While the move is not unexpected, Mama's declaration creates an even bigger hole, literally and figurately, the Trojans have to fill. USC was expected to lose three senior linemen. It was already going to have to replace a pair of All-American redshirt senior tackles in 6-foot-6, 310-pound Chad Wheeler and 6-foot-9, 360-pound Zach Banner and Utah defensive tackle transfer Stevie Tu'ikolovatu

Wheeler was nicked up early in the season and didn't start the first two games of the year, but finished the season strong. He played in all 13 games and added 11 starts to his tally, giving him 45 for his USC career. His bookend mate and good friend Banner missed two games with an ankle injury, but started 11 times. The Tacoma, Wash. native finished with 39 career starts and was called "the definition of a Trojan and what we want to be as a Trojan" by head coach Clay Helton.

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Tu'ikolovatu was named the Defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl in his Trojan denouement after he had a team-high eight tackles. Throughout the entire year, Tu'ikolovatu was crucial as a run stopper in the middle of USC's defense, but also as a veteran capable of teaching the young players how to attack each week of practice.

"He's been really good for not only the position group, but for the whole defense," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. "Teaching guys how to study. He leads by example. He's got that innate ability that guys like to follow from his lead."

The Trojans hope that a healthy Kenny Bigelow will help lessen the pangs of Tu'ikolovatu's departure.

USC had hoped to get oft-injured offensive lineman Jordan Simmons back. Even though Simmons is a redshirt senior, he had attempted to get a sixth year of eligibility. Somewhat surprisingly, the NCAA denied him.

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Despite playing in just nine games in three years, including one game appearance in both 2014 and 2015, the NCAA denied the appeal of the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Simmons. Finally healthy this year, he had been a key backup for the Trojans seeing action at right guard and both tackle positions. Simmons played in all 13 games, including seeing offensive reps in 10 games. 

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To add to Mama and the seniors exiting, USC also is losing Khaliel Rodgers. The 6-foot-3, 315-pound New Castle, Del. native announced his intentions to transfer the day after USC's instant classic 52-49 win over Penn State in Pasadena.

"What a incredible way to finish the season! So proud of the team for sticking together when every one counted us out," Rodgers wrote. "With that being said, I have decided to reopen my recruiting to all universities as a graduate transfer."

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Rodgers was a team player all season. During the summer, he moved from the offensive line where he had nine career starts to the defensive line to help shore up USC's defensive tackle depth. But when center Toa Lobendahn tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener, Rodgers was moved back to the offensive side, effectively making him just an emergency and mop-up duty player when he could have been in the defensive line rotation. He played in five games -- against Alabama on defense and four as the backup center in blowouts.

Mama's departure leaves USC without yet another veteran with game experience. Mama stepped in from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco and was able to start right away, opening as the Trojans right guard in his first two career games. He moved to a backup role before eventually jumping back into the starting lineup at left guard in the final two games in 2014. Mama became a mainstay at left guard making 25 starts the last two years, appearing in all 27 games.

While Mama leaves at 325 pounds, he first weighed in at 397, so he's seen a transformation in his body, turning him into a more mobile and agile guard capable of pulling and getting down the field to bust open holes for his running backs. But even at 325 pounds, Mama was still one of USC heaviest players.

Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

His departure leaves the Trojans without six of its seven heaviest players from the year end roster -- all in a four-day period. The Trojans also lost 6-foot-6, 325-pound freshman offensive tackle E.J. Price and 6-foot-6, 315-pound sophomore defensive tackle Noah Jefferson during the season. Both announced they were transferring.

That's eight of the nine heaviest players out the door. USC only has eight returning players listed at 300+ pounds with 6-foot-2, 315-pound Viane Talamaivao as the new heaviest Trojan.

The two remaining starters from USC's offensive line -- Nico Falah and Talamaivao -- could also enter their name into the NFL draft, but both are expected to return. Who will fill in around them will depend on who is physically ready to play next season.

If his knee is healthy, Lobendahn is capable of playing any spot on the line and could fill in wherever needed. Chris Brown and Chuma Edoga have a combined seven career starts over the last two seasons and should be considered frontrunners for spots, giving USC linemen with experience. 

Nathan Smith and Clayton Johnston were expected to compete for the tackle openings, but Smith tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during Rose Bowl practices and may not be ready when the season begins. Johnston still has to prove himself to the coaching staff. He disappeared from the participation charts after the first month of the season, falling off both the second string offensive line and the extra point and field goal special team units.

Depending on how USC's recruiting class shapes up, there are a couple of commits/targets that have the potential to come in and compete right away, but until they arrive, it will be up to the aforementioned along with the possibility of one of the young linemen in waiting -- Jordan AustinRoy HemsleyCole Smith or Frank Martin II -- stepping forward.

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