Commentary

USC's Matt Kalil makes pancakes

Running back? Linebacker? The greatest Trojans tradition may be offensive tackle

Updated: September 14, 2011, 2:22 PM ET
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com

At USC, it's an established tradition that current Trojans like to talk about past players at their respective positions and the legacies that have developed there.

Running backs Marc Tyler and D.J. Morgan refer to their school as "RBU," or Running Back University, a direct reference to guys like O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen and Charles White who starred at USC and went on to success in the NFL.

Linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard prefer the term "LBU," a credit to Junior Seau, Chris Claiborne and Clay Matthews, among others, who also went to school at USC and did well in the NFL.

But there's no "OTU." And maybe there should be, because through two games this season, Trojans left tackle Matt Kalil is reminding many observers of the all-time great offensive tackles who have come through USC over the years.

[+] EnlargeColeman Petersen
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe 6-7 Matt Kalil moonlights on the field goal block team. Kalil blocked this one against Utah.
Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz, as decorated as they come, are the first that to come to mind as NFL Hall of Famers. Then there's Tony Boselli, an All-American in college and an All-Pro in the NFL. Bruce Matthews, too, not exclusively a tackle in college but regardless a guy worth remembering.

There are a lot of them. And Kalil, a fourth-year junior in his second year as a starter for the Trojans, is the next in line at USC, now a veritable left tackle factory.

"There's no question in mind that when you talk about dominant left tackles, he's considered one of them," says his position coach at USC, NFL coaching veteran James Cregg. "There's no doubt. His work ethic, the way he presents himself, his play, it's all been great.

"He's done a superb job for us. We're really pleased with the way he's been working."

At the other 'U' positions, there are a couple of different tiers of talent. Sam Baker has had success in the NFL, but nobody compares him to Munoz. LenDale White was a dominant college player and had his moments in the league, but he's no Allen, Simpson or White.

USC has had 19 offensive tackles drafted in the first or second round in the last 50-plus years. Kalil will almost certainly become the 20th either next April or the April after that, whenever he chooses to declare for the NFL draft. Some draft prognosticators see him as a potential top-five pick. But could he be the next Munoz or the next Yary?

In other words, does he have Hall of Fame potential at the next level?

"Time will only tell," says Cregg, who calls Kalil the team's most valuable player up to this point in the season. "We can't say for sure right now. But if he keeps on his same course and keeps working the way he's working, he can possibly build into that."

Coming to a school with top-tier tackles like [Anthony] Munoz and [Sam] Baker was big for me. They set that kind of tradition that each guy coming in here now looks up to and sees these great tackles, and they're inspired to be there one day.

-- Matt Kalil
At 6-foot-7 and 295 pounds, Kalil has the size. He also has the smarts and DNA. His father, Frank, spent a year in the NFL in the 1980s. His brother, Ryan, a former USC standout, is a two-time Pro Bowler and the highest-paid center in NFL history at age 26.

The guidelines are in place for Kalil to become next great tackle out of USC, even if he won't say it.

"I just look at myself as being the best player I can be," Kalil said this week. "All this stuff comes naturally. I'm just doing what I can to be the best player I can be."

Kalil, 22, is much more guarded in interviews now than he was upon his arrival in 2008. He was a go-to guy for good quotes back then. Now, he mostly toes the company line, a normal process for any Trojan in recent years but one accelerated in his case by his increasingly high profile and the success of his brother.

Still, Kalil offered a good glimpse into his psyche after Saturday's dramatic 23-14 win over Utah. When asked by a reporter what he would have done had his game-ending field-goal block been called back because of the Trojans' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing return, Kalil had a response at the ready.

"I would've blocked it again," he said.

Kalil won't say he sees himself as the next-generation dominant USC left tackle. But he does say the previous generations of "OTU" played a role in his decision to sign with USC out of Anaheim Servite three years ago.

"Coming to a school with top-tier tackles like Munoz and Baker was big for me," Kalil said this week. "They set that kind of tradition that each guy coming in here now looks up to and sees these great tackles, and they're inspired to be there one day."

"As an offensive lineman, you're more part of a unit," he says. "No one really says how each individual player played. When most people bring up the game it's how did the offensive line play, not how did the left tackle play.

"That's why this isn't known as an offensive tackle school, really. That's why we're not singled out as much."

It's also why Kalil is not getting the credit he deserves this season, an afterthought in the USC offense behind quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods. He can do only so much with an offensive line that's starting three new players and a fourth playing a new position. But he's nearly single-handedly keeping the O-line afloat. On film, it's scary how dominant he can be. In the Utah game, there were times when he knocked down the defensive player he was assigned to block, then moved on to another, taking care of two rushers when some of his linemates struggled to stop one.

He'll be asked to do the same against Syracuse this week, when he might have a new starter next to him for the third straight week. Jeremy Galten started at left guard in Week 1 and struggled, and Martin Coleman started there in Week 2 and got hurt. Now true freshman Marcus Martin gets another chance.

Whoever it is, Kalil will be asked to pull some of his weight once again with junior center Khaled Holmes, the only other somewhat-experienced player on the USC O-line.

Said Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin of his star left tackle: "If we had four more of him up there, we'd have no issues. We'd be scoring a million points."

And "OTU" would gain even more credence.

Pedro Moura covers USC for ESPNLA.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES