Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Loss of Henderson leaves offensive line depth-free
By Pedro Moura
Seantrel Henderson is — in all likehood, of course — gone, leaving USC is now dangerously, dangerously thin at the two offensive tackle spots.
The depth chart released by first-year coach Lane Kiffin at the end of his first spring practice with the squad featured just three scholarship tackles — and only two healthy ones, redshirt sophomore Matt Kalil and junior Tyron Smith.
The other tackle on the depth chart, redshirt junior Martin Coleman, has suffered from a variety of nagging injuries throughout his USC career and is unlikely to see the field for any meaningful snaps this season. In two seasons, he's appeared in one game for the Trojans — then as a reserve offensive guard.
Another option at tackle, redshirt freshman Kevin Graf, spent the spring working at offensive guard due to injuries there and appeared as the starter at left guard in front of the injured Butch Lewis on the end-of-spring depth chart.
Assuming Graf transitions back to tackle in fall camp, he will be the Trojans' only real backup for Kalil and Smith at the bookend line positions and one of only six scholarship backups across the entire offensive line.
Compounding the problem, only one of those players — undersized redshirt freshman guard/center John Martinez — stayed healthy for the duration of 2010 spring practice.
The tandem of Kalil and Smith carries a total of 13 starts, essentially one full season. Smith started the first 12 games at right tackle across before becoming academically ineligible for USC's Emerald Bowl game against Boston College. Kalil then started that game — his first as a Trojan — and performed well in USC's win.
It's worth mentioning, also, that Smith had thumb surgery prior to spring practice and that Kalil missed considerable time during his redshirt season in 2008 due to a sprained knee, and missed some of spring practice this April.
In the past, USC has prided itself on versatility among its players, especially among the offensive line. But the current depth chart on the line seems to have a limited amount of that attribute.
Yes, Martinez can play either of the three spots in the middle of the line and Lewis started seven games at right tackle in 2008. But, other than those two, the other linemen tend to stick to their positions.
Redshirt junior center Michael Reardon worked at tackle during his first year at USC but was never a serious threat for playing time, similar to Coleman. Redshirt senior Zack Heberer has spent the duration of his Trojan career at guard, as has redshirt sophomore Khaled Holmes, a likely starter in 2010. Senior Kristofer O'Dowd started the first game of his career at center in 2007 and has never played another position for the Trojans.
What does this all mean for next season?
Firstly, USC's lone class of 2010 offensive line recruit — sizably undersized center/guard Giovanni Di Poalo — probably will not redshirt. Di Poalo, a three-star recruit and the 38th-ranked guard in the class by ESPNU, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He'll need to bulk up immediately.
Secondly, the Trojans will simply need to avoid injuries. Counting Di Poalo, James Cregg's group will have 11 scholarship players — plus capable walk-on Abe Markowitz — available for 2010. An injury or two would put USC at only two-deep or worse for every spot, not an enviable position.
Fans will likely be reminded of spring practice, when Kiffin frequently had only six or seven linemen available for use and was forced to adjust his offensive gameplan accordingly. It wasn't a pretty sight in intra-squad scrimmages, and it surely won't be a pretty sight in Pac-10 play.
We won't know the exact extent of the depth issues until September, but we already know one thing for sure: It'll be interesting.