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Thursday, November 7, 2013
Guertler helping USC out at tight end

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES -- With the USC Trojans’ sudden dearth of tight ends due to injuries suffered in the Notre Dame game, it was out of desperation that junior walk-on offensive tackle Nathan Guertler was converted to tight end, and the results couldn’t be more satisfying.

“It was a disastrous situation where we lost three tight ends at Notre Dame and Nathan really saved the day,” said John Baxter, one of USC’s two tight end coaches.

“Nathan has actually been there all fall because we train offensive linemen for disaster situations like playing tight end. You can’t get taken out of your game plan, and he’s probably the best all-around athlete on the offensive line.”

With no scholarship tight ends available for the big Pac-12 South Division game against Utah and the selected use of normal starter Xavier Grimble at Oregon State, one could certainly classify the Trojans situation as near disastrous.

Nathan Guertler
Nathan Guertler played his entire football career on the offensive line before being thrown into tight end duty this season with the Trojans.
Guertler never played tight end at Norco (Calif.) High, so how did the coaches approach their walk-on offensive tackle to make such a position switch?

“They basically said we’re going to need you as a tight end,” Guertler said. “It kind of shocked me, but I like it because I can be useful to the team.”

And how did this eager offensive lineman, who started against Utah and played significant minutes at Oregon State, adjust to his new tight end role and the particulars of a new position?

“I didn’t think it would be too much different from tackle, but I was talking to offensive line coach (Mike) Summers and he said you wouldn’t think an extra foot of space would make a whole lot of difference, but it does,” Guertler said after a recent practice.

“You feel like you’re playing on an island out there. You think there is space playing tackle, but at tight end there is that much more space. Playing tight end is a little harder.”

After the Trojans lost Grimble, Randall Telfer, and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick against the Fighting Irish, did Guertler ever imagine that he would line up as a tight end the past two games?

“Not at all,” Guertler said. “Where I can fit in on the team is great. The fact that I could play tight end is just awesome. You couldn’t ask for more.”

The challenge for Guertler last Friday night was substantial, but his contributions -- along with a rearranged offensive line -- were pretty impressive, as the underdog Trojans shocked the Beavers with a surprising 31-14 victory.

How impressive were Guertler and his offensive line in a stadium that had been a Trojans graveyard in USC’s last three visits?

Well, Trojans tailbacks rambled for 242 yards on the ground against the Beavers, and Guertler had a strong hand in those totals. If you’re not sure which player Guertler was, he was the one wearing No. 82 with the long dark hair flowing freely outside the back of his metallic red helmet.

Now that he has had a chance to watch film and reflect the recent turn of events, how would this friendly giant assess his play?

“I feel I played better against Utah than Oregon State, but I talked to my coach and he said I played pretty well,” Guertler said. “I guess I am holding myself to some pretty high standards.”

Playing against Utah in the friendly confines of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is one thing, but to play well in the chilly and hostile environment of Reser Stadium is another, especially with the noise level almost at an eardrum-breaking level.

“I couldn’t hear the cadence,” Guertler said with a laugh. “It was ridiculous. The loudest crowds I’ve ever been around are Oregon State, Utah, and Washington.”

Guertler, who stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 280 pounds, was not the only relatively new player on the offensive line in terms of position. Against the Beavers, left guard Max Tuerk was shifted to right tackle when starter Kevin Graf was unable to perform due to an uncooperative ankle.

How did things work out playing next to Tuerk?

“It was great,” Guertler said. “We had a couple of combination blocks, but as a tight end, I was also kind of by myself all day.”

If anybody had the pedigree to make a successful transition from offensive lineman to a blocking tight end, it’s Guertler. Coming from a run-friendly offense at Norco, Guertler brought some impressive prep credentials to USC, such as All-Riverside County and All-Big VIII League first team honors as an offensive tackle in 2009.

Playing tight end always presents the possibility of catching a pass, especially now that the offensive coordinator Clay Helton is spreading the ball around through the air to go along with a focused running attack.

So does that mean that this valuable walk-on could now also find himself as a future receiving option?

“I honestly don’t know,” Guertler said. “I could say yes and I could say no.”

Baxter is a little more optimistic that his work-in-progress tight end could find himself on the receiving end of a Cody Kessler pass.

“Oh sure, that’s why he’s got an eligible number on -- absolutely,” Baxter said.

And wouldn’t that be tight in the end.