2005 Offensive Line preview

These are good times right now on the offensive line for the Trojans as the position is filled with as many talented players as we have seen in many years. You have to go back to the late 70's to find a time when the USC o-line, traditionally one of the glorified positions in college football, saw a line-up with as much potential as the one we have now.

It's not only the talent, it's also the depth of talent that makes it impressive as the Trojans can fill a two-deep roster with players ready to contribute at a high level. From a pair of All-American candidates at tackle to a Rimington Award nominee at center, the line is ready to re-establish themselves as one of the top units in the country. There are technically five starters returning although two of those five are guys who have started at right tackle (Justice and Lutui). We will need to replace John Drake at left guard and that should turn out to be a competition between Drew Radovich and Lutui as Jeff Byers (who was expected to be the starter) will miss the season due to recent hip surgery.

2005 Offensive Line

The center of the line, both literally and figuratively, is Ryan Kalil. Kalil is basically a coach on the field and he has shown a solid combination of football savvy, technique and leadership during his time at USC. At this point last year many Trojan fans assumed Ryan was simply keeping the spot warm until incoming freshman superstar Byers got his feet wet but Kalil had other ideas. Ryan not only won the job but he performed well enough to earn a spot on the Rimington Award watch list for 2005 (given to the nations top center) and he should be in contention for All Pac-10 honors as well. Ryan is currently backed up by Matt Spanos, a tough player with a mean streak on the field (that's meant as a compliment for an offensive lineman) and Spanos is a better player than most people think. There hasn't been too much talk of him but if the Trojans needed him to do the job Matt would be more than capable of stepping in. Ross "Bulldog" Burruel is a walk-on who also plays center.

After missing last season Winston Justice came to camp in the spring in great shape and set himself up for possible All-American honors this season. If he can stay healthy and compete at the level we all think he is capable of there is no reason to think that he won't be one of the elite linemen in the country. Lutui will continue to be in competition at that spot, in addition to left guard, but chances are Justice will be the man lining up at RT when the season gets started. Incoming freshman Nick Howell, son of former All-American Pat, will begin his career at right tackle although he could get a look on the left side as well.

Fred Matua is the veteran of the group as he returns for his third year as a starter. Fred was originally moved from the defensive line to the o-line in an attempt to bring some energy to the group, as he put it at the time "it's like your mom's cooking. It tastes good but sometimes it needs a little sugar. I'm the sugar". The primary reserve at RG is a player with a bright future in redshirt freshman Chilo Rachal, a barrel-chested road grader who is ready to begin establishing his place on the line. It remains to be seen how much playing time he will earn this year but Chilo's time is coming and it won't be long before he is an integral part of our OL plans.

As mentioned earlier, the competition for the starting spot at left guard is the only spot on the line that remains unsettled as we head into fall camp. Byers was the odds-on favorite to win the job until his injury pushed him to the sideline and now it looks as if Radovich and Lutui will fight it out. Radovich took control of the job in spring and performed well, it's obvious he has taken advantage of his redshirt year to learn the system and get bigger because he is now looking powerful and ready to handle the load. Radovich was considered an elite recruit coming out of high school and the opportunity is now for him to step up and claim his spot. It won't be a cakewalk for Drew, however, as the coaches will take a look at Lutui at LG in order to provide some competition. Deuce was the starter last year at RT for a national championship team and he is in even better physical condition this season so it stands to reason that the coaches would like to have him on the field at some point. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Alatini Malu is another option if he can make progress after being hampered last year with injuries.

The left tackle spot should be OK for the next couple years as sophomore Sam Baker is firmly entrenched and ready to take his game to an even higher level. Baker was named a Freshman All-American last season while facing some of the top pass rushing defensive ends in the country. It's gotten to the point where you don't even worry about Sam because you know he is going to take care of his business and that's a comforting feeling when you're preparing to play a football game. Backing him up will be one of the most talented reserve linemen in the country in Kyle Williams. Kyle alternated with Duece last season at RT but was moved over to the left side this year after the return of Winston Justice. There's no doubt that Kyle could step in as a starter and the line wouldn't miss a beat. Thomas Herring is a big man who will be spending a lot of time with Coach Carlisle to sculpt his massive frame.

Overview

We've seen steady improvement in the offensive line play during the Pete Carroll era and there's no reason to think the line won't be an important part of any Trojan title hopes this year. With a bevy of talented skill players around them the line will simply need to do their job to allow the offense time to execute the plays. One important factor to watch will be the transition to new position coach Pat Ruel, a former NFL assistant who has drawn rave reviews from players and observers alike for his performance so far. Ruel says he admires the chemistry of the players on the line as much as their talent, a good sign for Trojan fans.

Offensive Line roster

#51 Fred Matua 6-2, 305 JR
#53 Jeff Byers 6-3, 300 SO
#60 Drew Radovich 6-5, 300 SO
#61 Ross Burruel 6-2, 290 SR
#62 Dominique Wise 6-4, 250 JR
#66 Chilo Rachal 6-5, 300 FR
#67 Ryan Kalil 6-3, 285 JR
#69 Matt Spanos 6-5, 300 SO
#70 Alatini Malu 6-4, 340 SO
#71 Taitusi Lutui 6-6, 365 SR
#72 John Lanza 6-3, 255 JR
#73 Jonathan Richert 6-4, 290 JR
#74 Winston Justice 6-6, 300 JR
#76 Nick Howell 6-6, 265 FR
#77 Thomas Herring 6-6, 335
#78 Kyle Williams 6-6, 295 JR
#79 Sam Baker 6-5, 305 SO

2005 USC Position Previews

Thursday, July 7th - Linebacker
Monday, July 11th - Defensive Line
Thursday, July 14th - Defensive Back
Monday, July 18th - Special Teams
Thursday, July 21st - Offensive Line
Monday, July 25th - Wide Receiver
Thursday, July 28th - Tight End
Monday, August 1st - Running Back
Thursday, August 4th - Quarterback


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