Graf, Walker next up for USC
Duo flashes potential to be solid bookends at tackle
When Matt Kalil was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the fourth pick of the 2012 NFL draft, it continued a tradition of USC offensive tackle production that can rival any school in the country.
Why have the Trojans been so dominant at this spot? A big reason is the offensive style of play at USC and a history of coaches who have consistently pushed the offensive envelope.
John McKay helped introduce the I-formation as a way to showcase the tailback, and it resulted in a pair of Heisman Trophy winning backs (Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson). John Robinson continued that legacy and added a couple Heisman winners of his own during his first stint at Troy (Charles White and Marcus Allen).
Of course, you don't achieve great success running the ball without some highly effective blockers up front, and the USC tackle position helped emphasize that formula with guys like Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz.
"The offensive tackle position for the Trojans is successful because USC recognized the 'Blind Side' long before the book," said Mike Lamb, a radio commentator and former USC offensive lineman (1979-83). "It has been a spot that was clearly a focus in the height of the I-formation days when the Trojans were beating defenses into submission."
Jeremy Hogue played offensive line at USC from 1992-95 and says the Trojans have identified the type of athletes who can succeed not only at running the ball, but in pass protection as well.
"Over the years there have been great USC coaches that recruited and coached pro-style tackles long before many other teams were doing anything other than running the ball," Hogue said.
That system also fit during the recent USC dominance under Pete Carroll when Trojans offenses were averaging over 40 points per game and winning multiple Heisman Trophies.
The lineup of tackles in place during that run was almost as impressive as the list of skill players for the Trojans. Jacob Rogers, Winston Justice, Sam Baker, Charles Brown and Tyron Smith were all high NFL draft selections.
"Today's USC is perceived as an offense that very closely utilizes and prepares players for what is popular in the NFL," Lamb said. "If it's true for quarterbacks, then it stands to reason that it would apply to those who have to protect them.
"Young linemen in the '60s wanted to be Ron Yary. It is no different now when they watch Matt Kalil. If it's possible to bring glamour to a job that, by its definition, is unglamorous, the Trojans have done it, and they've accomplished it over a very long period of time."
That kind of high-end production looks to continue in the future as the Trojans prepare for the 2012 season and beyond.
Lane Kiffin was faced with the task of replacing Kalil at the critical left tackle spot this spring and Graf got the first look. A legacy in his own right -- his father and brother both played offensive line for the Trojans -- Graf was the starter at right tackle in 2011 and left no doubt about his desire to move to the left side.
After spending the first week of spring with Graf on the left side and Walker on the right, the coaches flipped the two players and it stayed that way for the rest of spring. The reasoning for the switch was understandable as Walker is a huge man (6-foot-6, 320) with surprising athleticism, but he is far from a finished product.
"Walker has size, length and a high ceiling," Kiffin said. "He struggled at times, but he offers a real good combination of bulk in conjunction with left guard Marcus Martin and that potential flashed in spring. At this point we're going to leave him there and have Graf stay on the right side where he got comfortable last season."
Hogue notes the potential of Walker as well after seeing him in brief action last fall as a true freshman and then judging his progress in spring ball.
"What impresses me the most about Walker is his footwork and athleticism," Hogue said. "Most big guys can't move, but there have been times I've seen him pull and get out in front of a run play and immediately thought -- this guy can be really special.
"USC needs Walker to grow up fast, and part of that is going to be not taking any plays for granted. Taking one play off or not focusing can change the game at that position. The great ones like Kalil become perfectionists on every play. For Graf it's a little bit of the same story. When he was good last year he was really good, but the question is consistency. If those guys can have a really consistent season, it will be big for the Trojans."
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