Trojans expecting big things from talented, young O-line


LOS ANGELES -- Whenever the USC Trojans have been at their best on offense, it’s a good bet that the interior of their offensive line, namely the two guard positions, has been a major cog in the machinery.

With expectations high for 2015, the Trojans' situation at offensive guard appears to be rounding into a formidable force. What was a learning curve last season for a collection of extremely inexperienced but talented true freshman guards is expected to transition into an experienced and productive collection of sophomores.

The Trojans return sophomore starters Viane Talamaivao -- a physical 6-foot-3, 330 pounds of irresistible force at right guard -- and Damien Mama, a powerful 6-foot-5, 370-pounder who is a “pancake” aficionado.

Both Talamaivao and Mama were highly recruited coming out of high school.

Talamaivao, who played his prep ball at Southern California powerhouse Corona Centennial, was once committed to the Alabama Crimson Tide but later switched to the hometown Trojans who smartly offered him when Lane Kiffin was dismissed.

Part of the prideful Trojans Poly (Polynesian) line, Talamaivao started USC’s final 11 games in 2014 at right guard and saw action in all 13 games. He made 2014 All-Pac-12 honorable mention, which is no small potatoes.

Mama, a former Parade All-American from 2013 national prep champion Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, saw major action as a true freshman, appearing in 12 games. He started USC’s first couple of games at right guard, and then finished the season against Notre Dame and Nebraska at left guard.

Mama became a mainstay at left guard when original starting left guard Toa Lobendahn, another true freshman prodigy, was moved to left tackle for the final five games of last season when sophomore starter Chad Wheeler went down with a season-ending knee injury.

All Lobendahn did converting to left tackle was become a Freshman All-American and demonstrated his prowess in last season’s Holiday Bowl by holding in check Nebraska’s All-America defensive end and 2015 NFL draft selection Randy Gregory.

Mama and Lobendahn made history last season in the opener against Fresno State when they became just the second pair of Trojans first-year freshmen in the post-World War ll era to start on the offensive line. It was also the first time that a Trojans first-year freshman O-line tandem started in an opener.

Lobendahn could compete for his original starting left guard position when Wheeler returns. His future position might be at center when senior starter and Rimington Trophy candidate Max Tuerk departs after this season.

Obviously, one of the beneficiaries of this collection of extraordinary offensive beef is first-year Trojans offensive line coach Bob Connolly. The veteran coach could be the envy of his Pac-12 colleagues, having arguably the three best young offensive linemen in the conference.

And with the Trojans defense retooling from the losses of All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams, dependable linebacker Hayes Pullard, and talented corner Josh Shaw to the NFL, the offense may need to become more ball-control conscious and that would fall on the broad shoulders of the offensive line.