As the Trojans prepare to wind down spring ball drills, there won’t be a clear-cut answer on whom will be starting at right guard in the fall.
Khaliel Rodgers has been working with the first unit throughout spring and has done a solid job. The redshirt freshman is known for his tenacious and aggressive nature, and he has made progress adjusting to USC's new up-tempo offense.
By the time fall camp rolls around, however, there will be competition in the form of experienced senior Aundrey Walker. With 18 career starts under his belt -- including 10 last season at right guard -- Walker has to be considered a legitimate option, but he will also be coming off a broken ankle suffered in the regular season finale. That injury has forced him to sit out spring ball, which includes an important adjustment period to the speedy pace of play.
Walker has never been known as a player with a great work ethic so it will be interesting to see where his strength and conditioning is when he returns to practice. The fact that his injury is an ankle has prevented him from keeping up with conditioning, and there will be no real way to substitute for that until the ankle is ready. Walker is a big guy, listed on the USC roster at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, and that kind of frame will need some time to catch up to the work the other players are doing right now in order to get through 120 high-paced plays per day.
Of course, this is the final year of college eligibility for Walker, the last chance to impress the pro scouts for his potential career. Perhaps that will be the kind of carrot that will motivate him to show up ready to go from the moment fall camp arrives.
If Walker isn’t ready to go -- either with conditioning or with mental knowledge of the playbook -- Rodgers is continuing to make the coaches more and more comfortable with the thought of putting him on the field. That previous starting experience will be important for Walker, though, and you know the coaches will factor that into the equation, too.
WeAreSC caught up with Rodgers to get his thoughts as spring ball enters the final week:
Q: How is spring practice going so far?
A: It’s going great. Everyone is adjusting and doing great so far.
Q: What’s your weight at right now?
A: About 300 pounds.
Q: Is that the weight you’ve been trying to maintain through the spring?
A: Yeah, it’s been up and down a lot, been in the [200s], back up to , 310 but I’m 300 even right now.
Q: What’s it been like with [offensive line] Coach [Tim] Drevno?
A: It has been an awesome experience. He’s one of the greatest coaches to come out of the NFL. From the technique he teaches and overall, he’s a team coach and a great coach overall.
Q: How has moving around at guard been?
A: I’ve always been a guard, so moving me from left to right hasn’t been a major difference.
Q: You’ve been playing a lot with the first team, you feel pretty comfortable with that?
A: Yeah, me and the guys are gelling well. I took a lot of reps with them, with the first team, last year at practice. We were able to gel back then, so we are definitely gelling now.
Q: There was a lot of talk of you coming in and playing center, was that something you kind of wanted to do, or do you like it at guard better?
A: Whatever position Coach [Steve Sarkisian] wants me to be at, I’ll play.
Q: How much more prepared do you think you are with the redshirt year under your belt?
A: I’m more prepared just knowing the game, sitting back for a whole year and just watching how the game’s being played. Just football knowledge, I gained a lot of football knowledge.
Q: What’s the scheme been like for you? How different has it been with Sark in there?
A: It is totally different, but it is a scheme that will win games for sure, so we are definitely adjusting.
Q: For you specifically, what has been the difference for you? The protections, the calls, is all that different?
A: Wider splits, up tempo, fast, you’ve got to think faster. Everything is fast, that’s how you’ve got to win games now. Football is evolving and we got to be fast.
Q: Do you like the up-tempo style?
A: Definitely. It kills the morale of the defense.
Q: Is there any issues with conditioning for you as far as the up tempo goes?
A: We all have to get used to it as a team, but we are almost to the end of spring, so we are starting to get used to it now.
Q: You guys are running about 120 plays during practice, do you feel pretty good afterwards or are the last few plays hard?
A: It is definitely a lot of work put in so it’s not a bad feeling, but just to know that you can say you ran 120 plays, that’s a great accomplishment in practice.
Q: What do you think the quarterbacks have looked like back there?
A: All of my QBs are great. They’ve done an excellent job this whole spring.
Q: Max Browne came in with you in your class, what do you think of him so far?
A: Max, he works hard, he’s a work horse, in the film room especially. He’s always in the film room and the weight room, he always puts the extra time in. He’s a great guy.
Q: And you came in with Kenny Bigelow too, you get to face off against him. From the same high school, do you guys talk a lot about that?
A: Nah, high school is done with, it’s just like same ol' same ol', we go against each other all the time.