For so many years the offensive line was an achilles heel for the USC program as a lack of depth and lull in talent had reduced the line to a shadow of the unit that used to represent the Trojans so well. That changed in recent years as a core group of players such as Jacob Rogers, Lenny Vandermade and Norm Katnik established themselves as bonafide players and with the arrival of Tim Davis as their coach we've seen the unit rise to the point where it was considered a strength of the team last season.
This spring brings some question marks as we look to replace those three valuable seniors but the line-up we see in spring may not be the same group of players who take the field for the Trojans in fall camp. Winston Justice was named All Pac-10 last year and he's a two year starter who returns at right tackle but he will not be available for spring drills and we will also be without John Drake, a part-time starter last season who was a versatile addition to the run game. Taitusi Lutui is a big junior college signee who will also arrive in the fall to be a part of the group along with incoming freshmen Jeff Byers and Chilo Rachal.
Justice will be the top returning player on the line at right tackle but with him being out for the spring we will see Kyle Williams get an extended look and Williams is ready to go. Kyle has been in the system for two years, he's worked on his upper body strength and he knows the playbook. Now is the time for Kyle to step it up and play with the kind of intensity and fire that will earn him increased playing time in the fall.
With Drake out due to injury the right guard spot will feature Fred Matua, who was a part-time starter at that spot last year, with Matt Spanos backing him up. Matua brings emotion and a defensive mentality to the OL and his personality fits in well with what Davis is trying to do. In the six games that Drake started we averaged over 215 rushing yards per game while that number was just over 110 yards in games that Drake didn't start. Those type of numbers show that Big John is a valued factor on the line and if he's healthy it will be hard to keep him out of the line-up.
Ryan Kalil will get the first opportunity to solidify the center job in spring and Ryan was certainly impressive on the practice field last fall as he was the only member of the highly touted OL freshman class to not redshirt. Joining Ryan in the spring will be Travis Draper, an original signee from last season who eventually enrolled this spring. It stands to reason, however, that this competition will not be completely done until we head into fall camp with the addition of Byers, the national player of the year who has the intangibles to be a rare freshman contributor on the line.
The left guard spot will have Travis Watkins as the starter to open spring camp but he will likely face strong competition from Alatini "Tiny" Malu, a junior college transfer who enrolled for the spring and is known for his good footwork to go along with his 350 pound frame. Watkins is a veteran player who can be solid and has long been the back-up to Vandermade.
It will be a battle of two of the top young guys on the line at left tackle with Sam Baker and Drew Radovich both getting a look at possibly replacing All-American Jacob Rogers. In the fall we will also see the arrival of Lutui but for now Baker and Radovich will showcase why the deserve the job. Both came to SC last year with impressive credentials and they have shown that they are worthy of the hype.