USC: Jeremy Galten

Film study: Utah

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
5:47
PM PT
Here's the second post in our new 'film study' series started earlier this week.

Every other day from now until Aug. 23, we’ll be putting up a set of pertinent-to-this-year notes from each game, going of course in chronological order from the Minnesota season opener to the UCLA season finale. At the end, on Aug. 25, we’ll have one last post with our overall takeaways from the re-watching. By then, it’ll be the week of this year's opener.

We did USC's 19-17 win over Minnesota on Wednesday. Here, now, are our five notes — four big things and a bunch of little ones — from USC’s 23-14 win over Utah on Sept. 10, 2011.

Barkley's mistakes

This was either Matt Barkley's second- or third-worst performance of the 2011 season. We'll be able to more accurately place it after a re-watching of the October win over Cal, but he just doesn't look sharp in this contest.

Notable mistakes included a clear overthrow of Robert Woods on a screen play in the first quarter and two miscommunications with Rhett Ellison -- the latter of which resulted in an interception. At first, it looked as if it were an Ellison mistake, but the two players' reactions seem to indicate otherwise. And, after the first one, you can clearly see coach Lane Kiffin's mouth, "Come on, Matt" from the sideline on the TV broadcast.

A displeased Barkley told the sideline reporter after the game that the Trojans had "a lot of work to do on offense, that's for sure."

That seems like so long ago, doesn't it?

(Read full post)

Fall camp position preview: O-linemen

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
6:05
PM PT
With the start of the 2012 USC football season drawing near, we’re doing position-by-position previews of the Trojans’ roster all this week. We began Monday with quarterbacks and continued Tuesday with running backs and Wednesday with receivers and tight ends.

Today, we will profile offensive linemen.

For each position, we’re starting with the current depth chart, going off the end-of-spring depth chart as released by Lane Kiffin, and discussing what needs to be resolved by Sept. 1.

Left tackle

1. Aundrey Walker, sophomore
2. Nathan Guertler, redshirt sophomore
3. Chad Wheeler, freshman

Left guard

1. Marcus Martin, sophomore
2. Giovanni Di Poalo, redshirt sophomore
3. Max Tuerk, freshman

Center

1. Khaled Holmes, redshirt senior
2. Abe Markowitz, redshirt senior
3. Cyrus Hobbi, redshirt freshman

Right guard

1. John Martinez, redshirt junior
2. Jeremy Galten, senior
3. Jordan Simmons, freshman

Right tackle

1. Kevin Graf, redshirt junior
2. David Garness, redshirt junior
3. Zach Banner, freshman

An offensive line depth chart is always a funny thing.

The backup at a given position might technically be the No. 2 guy there, like Guertler is at left tackle, but that doesn't mean he'd be the guy to come in if Walker got nicked up and had to miss a series. And the same thing goes for Di Poalo backing up Martin -- it's much more likely that Markowitz would be the short-term replacement than Di Poalo.

But, about the starters, there really isn't going to be much competition going on here. The interior spots are all solidified, and Kiffin and his staff seem pretty set on keeping Walker on the blind site. The only foreseeable changes would be a switch between Walker and Graf if Walker is underperforming, and maybe a move of Markowitz into the left guard slot if Martin is experiencing a sophomore slump.

Walker's offseason weight loss has been remarkable. He weighed around 375 pounds on his official visit to USC in the winter and then proceeded to slowly lose weight over the next year and a half.

In early June, he was 296 -- too light for what the Trojans' coaching staff wanted. So he's tried to gain back some of the weight since.

Even when Walker was a lot heavier last year, you could see the makings of a left tackle in his game. He has a wide body, his feet are quick and he has long arms. It also makes sense to keep Graf at the position he has a year of starting experience at already.

Other things to watch in camp include the development of Banner, the mammoth freshman listed at 6 feet 9 and 335 pounds. He's a redshirt candidate, along with the other three first-year freshmen, but he might have the best chance to play this year of the group.

Simmons' status is unknown, as a knee injury has prevented him from most team workouts since he arrived on campus earlier this summer. Wheeler, still a serious project, is almost a guarantee to redshirt although he enrolled in January.

We tackle defensive linemen tomorrow.

Spring position preview: DLs

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
10:18
AM PT
We’re doing position-by-position previews in the weeks leading up to spring practice, breaking down the depth chart for one position group each day, paying special attention to things that can change in the spring.

We’ve looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen so far. Today, we analyze the defensive linemen.

Lane Kiffin always said former USC defensive end Nick Perry was a unique athlete.

Everyone else finally saw the same thing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last weekend. Now the tough part comes, though: The Trojans have to replace him and the pass-rush presence he provided on the defensive line the last three seasons.

There isn't another returner on the line who has proven capable and consistent as a pass-rusher. Wes Horton has been effective in stretches and George Uko has shown flashes, but that's about it. Devon Kennard has struggled to get to the quarterback and the other projected starter, nose guard J.R. Tavai, doesn't even try to get there much.

Where will the sacks come from? That's part of what this spring will help figure out.

(Read full post)

Four starters in four weeks at LG?

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
1:36
PM PT


In college football, it's not normal to have three starters at one position in three consecutive weeks.

But that's what the Trojans accomplished Saturday against Syracuse when they started true freshman Marcus Martin at left guard in his collegiate debut, making him the third player to try his hand at the spot in as many games this season. Juco transfer Jeremy Galten started Week 1 against Minnesota and was unseated the next week in practice; fifth-year senior Martin Coleman started Week 2 against Utah but got hurt early on and may not come back anytime soon.

And this might not be it. There might be a fourth.

Abe Markowitz, a redshirt junior, very well may get the nod at left guard this week after he was limited the first three weeks of the season by a foot injury. Before he got hurt, he was the No. 1 guy at the position. None of the other three have stood out so far, so it'd make sense for Markowitz to get his chance against Arizona State.

The problem with all of this: Where's the continuity?

An offensive line, more than any other unit on a football field, needs that continuity, that flow, that progression. And the Trojans haven't had it and may not have it for the foreseeable future, which, really, has stalled their progress as a five-man front and prevented them from jelling as a line.

The good news is there are only so many more changes Lane Kiffin and the Trojans can possibly make at that one position. Markowitz is the only other new player who could legitimately start there -- although Aundrey Walker could theoretically switch over from right guard in some kind of emergency or drastic situation.

Basically, after Markowitz gets his chance -- or before, if he doesn't get one -- someone's going to start their second game at the position. And the real progress, both from the specific player and the offensive line as a whole, should begin there.

That's this team's biggest weakness right now. The passing game is comfortably above-average and at times superb, depending on the play of the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers and the line; the running game is about average but with elite streaks. The defense has been consistently great defending the run and average with similar elite streaks defending the pass.

If the O-line can get it together, the passing game likely moves to regularly elite levels and the run game becomes a dependable option. In other words, if the O-line can get it together, this team could actually be pretty good.

Kiffin seemed to think after he had seen the film of Saturday's game against Syracuse that the line had played its best game yet, but the numbers don't overwhelmingly support that notion. Sure, there was more time in the pocket for Barkley to pass, but the Orange pass rush was probably the worst of the three teams the Trojans have played this year. The running backs had a total of 37 yards on the ground on 14 carries entering the fourth quarter.

That number should have been triple that against the Orange, if not more. But with no continuity on the line and a constant reshuffling of the starters, it's hard to reasonably expect much more.

Grades: USC-Syracuse*

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
8:34
PM PT
GradePASSING ATTACK
Matt Barkley was quite good, throwing for five scores and no picks. But other than Robert Woods, nobody really stood out in Saturday's game. And Woods wasn't at his best in the second half, collecting only 12 yards on two catches in the final 30 minutes.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
What in the world happened here? When your leading rusher at halftime is a receiver, you know your run game's in trouble. Marc Tyler couldn't get going at all in his first 2011 start and no other backs got legitimate chances to carry the ball.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
There were, once again, serious issues with the Trojans' offensive line Saturday. Matt Kalil wasn't as dominant as he had been earlier this year, and left guard was a big problem spot with Marcus Martin and Jeremy Galten. The defensive line had a superb second half.

GradeDEFENSE
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib was able to piece together a nice game without a turnover until late, but the Trojans made the Orange run game almost as nonexistent as their own. Freshmen outside linebackers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey consistently played like stars.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
Andre Heidari missed his only field-goal attempt of the night, but punter Kyle Negrete rebounded to have a much better game after a subpar Week 2. He averaged 41.5 yards per punt. Running back Curtis McNeal had an impressive tackle on the kickoff team.

*Correction: Heidari was 1 for 2 on field-goal attempts.

GradeCOACHING
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin didn't attempt a two-point conversion, which had to please some Trojan fans. But you have to question why he showed so little loyalty to his running backs, not allowing McNeal, Dillon Baxter or D.J. Morgan to get involved until late.

Depth chart changes afoot

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
1:02
PM PT
Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff aren't happy with a few players' performances so far, and they're doing something about it.

Different players are getting opportunities to take over some of the problem positions in practice this week, starting with redshirt freshman cornerback Anthony Brown, who leaped two spots up to practice as the No. 2 corner Tuesday. Previous starter Torin Harris has been particularly shaky through two games and nickel back Tony Burnett has also had his not-so-great moments, so Brown will be given the chance to unseat both of them.

"We're giving Anthony a shot," Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice. "He's another one of the young guys in the first class that we signed that has done some good things, so it's his chance to get a turn.

"We may rotate him in in base, but it's looking like he'll play nickel for sure."

Harris has been responsible for big game-sealing plays each of the past two weeks, but, aside from those has been beaten badly. Burnett's tackling has been good, as Kiffin expected when he inserted him into the lineup, but his pass coverage has left something to be desired.

Enter Brown, a risk-taker type who looks like the typical Cover-2 corner -- small and quick, but unafraid to mix himself up in tackling matters. He had an outside shot at winning a top-three cornerback spot in fall camp but never got all that close to it. He'll get a chance to do that against tall Syracuse receivers Van Chew and Alec Lemon on Saturday.

Another position up for grabs: left guard, for the second straight week. Jeremy Galten and Martin Coleman have been unable to seal down the spot early on this year, so freshman Marcus Martin worked with the first-string offense Tuesday. It didn't seem like Aundrey Walker was far away from earning another chance too, either at left guard later on or at right guard, where John Martinez has been up and down.

"We're gonna give the young guys a shot again," Kiffin said of the guards. "We're into Week 3 now, so hopefully the true freshmen can help out in there and do some things. But that's up to them, not up to us."

Coach Speak: Week 3

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
8:18
PM PT
Notes and quotes from Lane Kiffin's Sunday evening conference call after the Trojans' 23-14 win over Utah:
  • Following up on the late-night fiasco that was the score change, Kiffin said he originally thought Torin Harris' field-goal-block return was ruled a touchdown on the field, then realized later that it wasn't. But he said he did not personally call for a change in the ruling or anything of that nature, although he said he was pleased to find out the official final score two hours after the game ended. "I’m sure it made a lot of Trojan fans happy to find that out two hours later," Kiffin said. "I hope they didn’t throw away their tickets." The coach did question what the officials would have done if the game was tied in the end-game situation and Utah went on to win it in overtime. He asked if the Pac-12 would reverse the outcome of the game after reviewing the final play in regulation in that hypothetical situation.
  • Marc Tyler ran the ball 24 times for 113 yards but did not win himself the starting job for Week 3, Kiffin said. He did, however, admit that the running back situation is going to cause issues going forward, with Dillon Baxter looking for more playing time and Curtis McNeal also deserving but Kiffin unable to provide them the snaps. "This is just one of those situations that everybody can’t be happy," Kiffin said. "You can’t share the ball amongst four guys." Still, the four players are all listed as co-starters on the Trojans' official depth chart for the Syracuse game.
  • The apparent miscommunication between Rhett Ellison and Matt Barkley on the Trojans' second-quarter interception may not have been a miscommunication after all. Kiffin took responsibility for the play and said he shouldn't have called it in that situation. "I kinda put it on myself," Kiffin said. "There was a little gray area there in the read. ... Put that one on me."
  • The USC coaches still plan to play more guys, even though only four more got in Saturday for a total of 47 players. "I know I've been saying it," Kiffin said. "But we need to do a better job of it. We need to get some more guys in." Freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson, who logged two series but appeared to be pretty badly beaten on one play in that period, made his debut. Kiffin said safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey each played 73 snaps in the game, which he called "too many."
  • Kiffin did not have an update on the status of left guard Martin Coleman, who started Saturday's game but injured his shoulder early on and came out to be attended to by team doctors. He returned, sporting a shoulder brace but came out later on and was replaced by Jeremy Galten. For what it's worth, Galten is listed as the starter on the official depth chart released Sunday by USC.
  • Final notes: Nothing more is known on defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who continues to wait to be medically cleared, a process that has taken six months now since he was originally hospitalized in March. ... Baxter did not meet privately with Kiffin on Sunday as he had the previous week, despite getting only one carry against the Utes.

Game-time updates: Utah

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
4:09
PM PT
We're just about set to go at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the Trojans' Pac-12 opener against Utah. Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before kickoff:
  • Running back Marc Tyler is in uniform for the Trojans for the first time this fall after being reinstated this week from his one-game suspension for inappropriate comments to TMZ.com. D.J. Morgan's still listed as the starter, but Tyler is expected to receive carries early on and his legs should probably be fresher than the other USC backs.
  • Also in uniform: left guard Abe Markowitz, who sat out of practice this week with a foot injury. It's not known whether or not he's been medically cleared, but he said Thursday he'd pushed to be cleared as late as Saturday morning, so it's possible he'll be allowed to play. Martin Coleman will start at left guard, having unseated Week One starter Jeremy Galten in practice this week. Also starting Saturday is Devon Kennard, who unseated Wes Horton. Both players will still play extensively.
  • Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is in the building as part of the conference's celebrations for the first-ever game between two Pac-12 squads. (Technically, Colorado and California were the first teams to match up earlier Saturday, but the USC-Utah contest is being billed as the real opener.) Scott will be presented with a Pac-12 football signed by all of the conference's coaches prior to kickoff, and the football will later be auctioned off to raise funds for the September 11 memorial in New York City.
  • More 9/11 commemoration activities: 50,000 American flags will be distributed to fans entering the Coliseum to display at a later time and there will be a moment of silence prior to the national anthem for the 10th anniversary of September 11. Iraq war veterans will also be on the field during the anthem and an Air Force flyover will occur at the conclusion. Former Olympian and military hero Louis Zamperini will be USC’s honorary game captain for the coin toss.

Join us here on the USC Report on ESPNLA.com at 4:30 p.m. PT as Arash Markazi and I will keep you updated throughout the game in Trojans Live!, a full-blown interactive chat.

Martin Coleman, the big unknown

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
6:42
PM PT


USC has 13 seniors on scholarship.

Ten of them have started at least one game as a Trojan. Two of other three -- T.J. Bryant and Ross Cumming -- have played meaningful snaps at some point in their college careers. And then there's Martin Coleman, the 6-5, 335-pound offensive lineman who was as much of an afterthought as they get at USC.

Except now it's Week 2 of the 2011 season and Coleman looks like he'll get the start at left guard in place of the injured Abe Markowitz and ineffective Jeremy Galten. It's been a long road for the 24-year-old Coleman, who actually enrolled at USC a semester early in January 2007 and is now in his 10th semester at the school.

And, in an interesting twist, it's not as if Coleman has done a particularly good job this week in practice or this camp in general. It's more of an availability deal, where he's (1) healthy, (2) knows the offense and (3) would presumably be able to handle himself in a game without imploding, even though he's never played more than a few snaps. The coaches aren't praising him like you'd normally hear about a player unseating another. They're simply saying he's doing OK, which very might be enough for the Trojans' offensive line.

"He's done alright," head coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "He's kinda plugged away in there. Martin's someone who's been here for five years and really hasn't played, so hopefully if he gets a chance he'll play well."

Coleman spent some time as the No. 1 left guard during camp but didn't win the job outright. He went into the season opener as the backup at that spot behind Galten and didn't play at all, then took over as the No. 1 guy again on Tuesday. He took all the snaps there in practice this week.

"Right now I'm just taking my opportunities," Coleman said Thursday. "[This week] went great.

"My first starting position, if that's the deal -- I'll be blessed. I'll give it 100% and try to make the coaches proud."

Tuesday practice quick hits

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
5:39
PM PT
More notes and quotes from Tuesday's practice at USC:
  • Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin announced that safeties graduate assistant Sammy Knight and assistant coach Monte Kiffin will officially be splitting the secondary coach duties for the rest of the season, just as they did last week after Willie Mack Garza resigned Thursday citing personal reasons. Knight, a former USC safety and NFL Pro-Bowler, is in his second season as a USC staffer but has never been a full-time coach. The elder Kiffin will help him out with different, unexpected situations, but it sounds like it'll mostly be Knight's job for the rest of the year. "We have a lot of confidence in Sammy," Lane Kiffin said. "He's been with us now two years and he's done a real good job. He's never really coached before as far as running a room, so my dad will help him with that and I think together they'll do well back there. I know the players like Sammy a lot."
  • Practicing with the first team at left guard for much of practice was senior Martin Coleman, who could unseat Jeremy Galten if it turns out Abe Markowitz isn't ready to start Saturday against Utah. Coleman had an opportunity to win the starting job during camp but couldn't beat out Galten, but the coaches clearly weren't overly pleased with how the juco transfer's debut went. Of course, Kiffin has repeatedly referred to Markowitz as the starter, so when he does get back from his foot injury, it's safe to assume he'll be the No. 1 guy.
  • Tallahassee, Fla. running back Javorious "Buck" Allen practiced for the first time with the Trojans on Tuesday after arriving on campus late last Thursday and then beginning classes Friday, just one week before the school-wide deadline to enroll. Allen was on the sidelines for Saturday's game against Minnesota but is considered a sure bet to redshirt.
  • USC dropped out of the AP Top 25 poll released Tuesday as one of two teams to fall out of the rankings despite winning their opener. The other team? Reigning national champion Auburn, who started at No. 23 but struggled to beat Utah State at home, 42-38. The Trojans had started at No. 25 and fell to what equates to 28th, as the team with the third-most votes not in the Top 25. Pac-12 South rival Arizona State, who USC faces in less than three weeks in Tempe, has the most votes of any team not in the Top 25.
  • The powder-blue and gold jerseys USC scout-team members wore during Thursday's practice were back Tuesday, but they weren't used. Instead they simply stayed out on the Howard Jones Field grass for the duration of the session and were picked up by the team managers following the end of practice.

5 things to watch: Minnesota vs. USC

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
10:07
AM PT
1. The running back battle: It's unusual, but it just might work. It appears the Trojans are purposely refraining from naming a starter at running back to motivate the three competitors for the position and confuse Minnesota, too. But who's going to get the most carries? At this point, the most astute guess would probably be D.J. Morgan, the redshirt freshman ex-track star. He's the hottest hand of late, running harder than ever and running with good vision. Outside of that, it's hard to predict -- but we do know now that freshman standout Amir Carlisle will likely sit out and thus won't be a part of the race.

2. Step one for the defense: How does that phrase go? The first step is always the hardest? Well, this is step one for the Trojans' defense in attempting to reverse their fortunes from a horrible 2010 season. They've been better in camp this fall, but they've only been tackling themselves. Tackling somebody else is a whole new challenge. It starts on the defensive line, where the fearsome fivesome of Devon Kennard, Wes Horton, Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris and Nick Perry have the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the unit, with George Uko helping out too. The linebackers and defensive backs have clear strengths and clear weaknesses, so it'll be interesting to take note of how and what Minnesota chooses to attack.

3. Can the offensive line hold up? In terms of interest, this thing to watch doesn't rank all that high. But in terms of importance, it might deserve to be No. 1. A weak guard tandem of Jeremy Galten and John Martinez could end up the Trojans' downfall this season -- not necessarily on Saturday but at some point in the near future. Quarterback Matt Barkley will never even sniff a Heisman campaign this year if his inexperienced line doesn't at least give him a couple seconds to deliver the ball. Luckily, he has one of the best left tackles in college football in Matt Kalil and one of the smartest players in the nation in Khaled Holmes at center.

4. Willie Mack Garza's absence: Remember how Lane Kiffin had "NO DISTRACTIONS" painted in white just outside Howard Jones Field to remind his players to focus during practice? Maybe he should've done it upstairs in Heritage Hall, too -- because the Thursday resignation of Garza, USC's secondary coach, serves as one sizable distraction heading into kickoff. There will be questions asked about it afterward, but the immediate effects will be on the field, obviously, where Garza's young unit will face its first test without their position coach. (Sammy Knight will probably take over temporarily and potentially long-term). One good part about it: If there was one game this year to be without a secondary coach, this might be the one , because Minnesota's simply not going to throw the ball very much.

5. Stopping MarQueis Gray: USC hasn't been very good against running quarterbacks in the past, and this guy Gray is a legitimate 1,000-rushing-yard candidate as a signal-caller, a rare caliber of athlete for the position. Kiffin compared him to Vince Young earlier this week, and it makes some sense, although Gray has much, much less quarterbacking experience than Young did when the Trojans saw him. This'll be his first collegiate start at quarterback. On the field, it's important that USC's young outside linebackers and extra defensive backs don't overcommit to Gray when he fakes to take off running, because there are plenty of examples of Gophers coach Jerry Kill's last quarterback, Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish, doing that and then pulling back to deliver an on-target pass.

Looking both ways for guidance

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
6:29
PM PT
Jeremy Galten's going to be nervous starting his first-ever Division I football game on Saturday at the Coliseum, he freely admits.

But he's going to handle it, he said, with the help of two fellow linemen who will be flanking him all game long in left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes.

See, Galten fits right in between the two on the O-line as the Trojans' No. 1 left guard, and he's been using that positioning to his advantage over the last week-plus, calling on the two upperclassmen for advice often and without hesitation.

"Either way," Galten said Thursday, when asked which of his teammates help him out on field. I've got Khaled to my right and Matt Kalil to my left. I'm surrounded by two great football players."

For USC, that's both good and bad. It means the team's biggest potential weak spot will be minimized by having the two best linemen on opposite sides of it, but it also means the team's biggest potential strength will be split up by an inexperienced juco transfer in Galten.

Also, he's not yet officially the starter, as coach Lane Kiffin hasn't made an official announcement and Galten hasn't been told either, but it's almost 100% clear he'll be the guy. The only case in which he wouldn't is if Abe Markowitz can somehow make a miraculous return from a foot injury to be fully healthy Saturday and convince the coaches as such.

Galten, who played left guard at College of San Mateo in the Bay Area for the 2009 and 2010 seasons, said he never envisioned himself starting his college debut.

"I've been here for eight months now and I didn't think so," Galten said. "Talk to me nine months ago and I wouldn't even think I'd be here. But it is what it is and I definitely think I've put myself in the position to be where I'm at."

He began his USC career in the spring as a right tackle, practicing in place of the then-injured Kevin Graf. He also spent time at right guard before moving to left guard midway through camp. But even with all the moving and shaking and injuries on the offensive line, Galten said he feels he's adequately prepared to play a full game for the Trojans.

"Definitely," he said after his final preparatory session Thursday. "I was playing guard earlier in the camp and I've been playing tackle. It's not that much different, so I definitely know enough going into the game."

Position battles still unsolved

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
1:12
PM PT
Another day of practice passed Wednesday without answers at a number of key spots for the Trojans. Here's an overview of what still has to be determined over the next 72 or so hours, in order of most unresolved to nearly-resolved:

Running back

Any one of three players could start Saturday: Dillon Baxter, D.J. Morgan or Curtis McNeal. And Amir Carlisle could play too, unless he's still bothered by the hamstring injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice.

This is the most unsettled position on the team, but it also has the potential for the best resolution, because it's easier to rotate players in and out here. It would be a surprise, at this point, if all three of the returners don't get at least five carries against the Gophers -- and closer to 10. It's very possible the coaching staff will not go into the game with a clear-cut choice to get primary carries and instead simply ride the hot hand.

The Trojans actually did that in the opener last year too, as C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler all ran the ball eight or more times. But that was more of a use-the-backups-when-the-game-opens-up situation.

This is a use-everyone-always situation.

Left guard

Jeremy Galten has been taking the first-team snaps here for several days now, but Lane Kiffin deliberately denied that Galten would be the starter on Wednesday, saying there is still hope that Abe Markowitz (foot) would be back by Saturday.

If he isn't, Galten will certainly be the choice. If he is, it's unclear what the Trojans would do. But one thing is clear about this spot: Whoever starts Game 1 is not necessarily the Game 2 starter. There will be plenty of opportunities for change here as the season goes on, and it wouldn't be a surprise if freshman Aundrey Walker eventually switched over here from the right side to pick up snaps.

(Read full post)

No improvement from the offensive line

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
6:52
AM PT
When the Trojans moved in four weeks ago today for the start of fall camp, the biggest weakness on the team was clear: the big uglies on the offensive line.

At that time, there were two certainties on the line and three uncertainties. Left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes were the former; the left guard, right guard and right tackle spots were the latter.

Now, four weeks later, three days until the season opener, there are three certainties and two uncertainties. Kalil, Holmes and right tackle Kevin Graf are the former; the left and right guard spots are still the latter.

In other words, little has changed.

"I don’t know that we feel much better than we did coming into camp with our offensive line," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday. "We’re pretty much right where we started, unfortunately."

And that's not really a good thing, of course. The one good thing: Graf has proven to be a capable blocker in both pass and run situations and comfortably recovered from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for all of spring practice. But the fact that he's only played briefly in four games and started none hasn't gone away -- and it won't until Saturday.

The bad things: Most of USC's offensive linemen have been tried out at the guard spots at various points throughout camp. None of them really stuck. It almost seems like the players that are going to end up starting Saturday are only in that position because of the timing: i.e., their opportunity came at the right time, even if they didn't truly seize it.

The next week's game against Utah could see an entirely different guard lineup, and the next week's against Syracuse could too.

"We feel very good about the left tackle and the center," Kiffin said. "We’re pleased with where the right tackle is – the only difference is he hasn’t played in a significant game really. It’s gonna be a step up for him.

"And then we really haven’t made a whole lot of progress inside with the two guards, so it’ll be a work in progress and hopefully it gets figured out here pretty soon."

Offensive line still struggling

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
6:00
PM PT
Lane Kiffin thought he was starting to get his offensive line figured out when he penciled in Kevin Graf at right tackle to join Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes and moved mammoth freshman Aundrey Walker over to right guard last week.

Not so fast, coach.

The Trojans' offensive line, the team's biggest weakness, struggled mightily in Sunday's three-hour scrimmage at the Coliseum -- even Graf, who Kiffin had previously complimented earlier in camp. They allowed sacks, they failed to create significant room for running backs to roam and altogether hardly ever dominated, even when going as a first-string unit head-to-head against second-stringers.

“Same story,” Kiffin said when asked about his line. ”The center and left tackle are playing well. The right tackle was a little shaky today, as you saw out there. He gave up a sack and one or two false starts.”

The guards were the weakest link, Kiffin said. Walker started at right guard and didn't do particularly well, and the next player to earn a shot at left guard, Abe Markowitz, didn't either. And backups John Martinez and Martin Coleman also weren't on top of their games.

“It didn’t feel or look like anybody played well at guard,” Kiffin said. "They’re just not performing consistent. It’s kind of expected from Aundrey (Walker) for a guy that’s not only a true freshman but just moved positions five days ago.

"We just have to continue to improve.”

This isn't a surprise, of course. Kiffin has long known picking his guards would be an issue, especially when Michael Reardon retired early this offseason and Tyron Smith left early for the draft, forcing Graf to play right tackle. But did he anticipate it being this difficult?

We don't know, but we do know this: the Trojans have fewer than 20 days left before their season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3. At this point, it appears like it will be two of four players who win those spots -- the same four, Markowitz, Walker, Coleman and Martinez, who played extensively in Sunday's scrimmage.

Juco transfer Jeremy Galten may also still have a shot, but that's about it. Freshmen Cyrus Hobbi, Marcus Martin and Cody Temple, who's been out with a back injury, never got any sort of look in camp at the guard spots, and neither did David Garness, the other juco lineman.

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2014 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler37253944
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen221336.01
J. Toland12473.90
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
D. Rogers56012.00
N. Agholor55711.42
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense277424701
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring521339