The offensive line is the backbone of every offense. USC’s offensive line is still coming into focus as the first game of the season approaches on Saturday. But even after losing both of last year’s tackles, it’s clear the Trojans have enough talent and experience to field a solid line unit in 2020.
Here’s a breakdown of where USC stands at offensive line:
Key returnees: Justin Dedich (So.), Liam Douglass (So.), Liam Jimmons (Sr.), Frank Martin (Sr.), Jalen McKenzie (Jr.), Brett Neilon (Jr.), Gino Quinones (R-Fr.), Jason Rodriguez (R-Fr.), Bernard Schirmer (R-Fr.), Alijah Vera-Tucker (Jr.), Andrew Vohees (Jr.)
Key losses: Austin Jackson, Devin Richmond
Newcomers: Casey Collier, Andres Dewerk, Courtland Ford, Andrew Milek, Jonah Monheim, Caadyn Stephen
Biggest unanswered question: How exactly will the starting five line up across the front? From interviews, the five leaders for the starting jobs could be gleaned: Vera-Tucker, McKenzie, Neilon, Vorhees and Jimmons. They’re the five veteran options who have stood out the most to the coaches, so the only question is where exactly each lines up.
You can pen Neilon in at center, the spot he started at last season. Vera-Tucker seems like a lock to move from left guard to left tackle after he decided to opt back in to the 2020 season. The final three are less certain, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see McKenzie slide from right guard to the other tackle spot, leaving Vorhees and Jimmons at either guard spot.
Why 2020 production could be better: This is an older group than last year, when USC returned only one starter from the previous year’s offensive line. This year has three starters back, each with a full year of experience. And the two new additions to the starting group, Vorhees and Jimmons, are upperclassmen, even if Jimmons spent his first three years at USC as a defensive lineman.
There’s much more depth on the line this year than last, too. Dedich and Douglass are experienced backups, while there are enough bodies for a three-deep on the line, a luxury USC did not have a year ago.
Why 2020 production could be worse: Losing Austin Jackson is a tough one for USC, though not unexpected. He and Vera-Tucker created a formidable protection for quarterback Kedon Slovis’ blind side last year, and even with Vera-Tucker back it will be difficult to replicate in 2020.
And despite the additional depth, many of the reserves are young or have little experience. As bullish as head coach Clay Helton is on the freshman class, they are still true freshmen. Even a senior like Martin has only played in three games in his career.