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March 28, 2010

Can O-line talent trump numbers?

They're big, athletic. decently experienced, highly touted and if not exactly deep, deep enough.

"You'd always like more depth," new USC offensive line coach James Cregg said of the group that head coach Lane Kiffin calls "thin" and "talented."

But Cregg will take the hand he's been dealt with three returning Trojans starters -- junior tackle Tyron Smith (6-6, 290), and seniors Kristofer O'Dowd (6-5, 300), at center, and Butch Lewis (6-5, 290) at guard.

Then there's this. USC's 10 scholarship offensive linemen this spring averaged 4.3 Rivals stars coming out of high school with Smith, O'Dowd and sophomore tackle Matt Kalil (6-6, 300) all five-star prospects at the tops of their classes nationally.

No USC scholarship lineman came into Troy with less than four stars. That may be a record almost certainly unmatched by any team in college football today.

So why wasn't USC able to dominate last fall, considering the Trojans also had former Gatorade High School Player of the Year Jeff Byers, first-team All-Pac-10 in his sixth season, along with Charles Brown, who made some All-America teams, as well as two-year starter Alex Parsons all seniors?

Cregg said he didn't know all the issues from the fall, but he did know from the film he's seen that whatever gave USC problems, it wasn't that the Trojans didn't have enough talent, enough athleticism, enough size or speed.

"Without a doubt," Cregg said. "I was very impressed."

And yet the Trojans weren't always all that impressive. Any possible explanation?

"I did see a lot of guys playing different positions, out of necessity I assume, because of injuries," Cregg said. "And if there was any one thing that was a problem, it was a lack of execution."

Position switching will do that.

So without installing a working depth chart, Cregg said he will definitely try to find a home for each of these guys, with only Kalil, who will start out at left tackle, possibly also asked to play on the other side.

On the right side, it's Smith, looking to get his game up to speed with his impressive physique. Backup tackles should be Kevin Graf (6-6, 315, Fr.) and Martin Coleman (6-5, 315, Jr.)

That means it will be O'Dowd at center along with junior Michael Reardon (6-5, 285).

With Lewis back at right guard, senior Zack Heberer (6-5, 290) brings five career starts with him to the position while sophomore Khaled Holmes (6-4, 300) and redshirt freshman John Martinez (6-3, 275), who played several positions a year ago, will also line up on the inside.

"For a young guy like Martinez, it's important to have one position," Cregg said.

Sophomore walk-on center Abe Markowitz gives that position a bit of depth at least until talented freshman prospect Giovanni DiPoalo from Ventura's St. Bonaventure arrives in the fall.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFOOTBALL.COM. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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