Trojans' offensive line is still a puzzle

LOS ANGELES -- Almost everyone agrees that a reconstructed and heavily scrutinized offensive line will be key to the USC Trojans' success this season.

The responsibility for this unit rests with new offensive line coach Tim Drevno. The first-year coach has been working with his players individually after practice during this first week of training camp.

"I think the biggest thing is to get back into the playbook and get our physicality back, get great communication up front, start to address the starting five, and try to find the sixth, seventh, and eighth guy," said Drevno, who was the assistant offensive line coach last season with the San Francisco 49ers.

With the Trojans returning just two starters from the 2013 offensive line -- sophomore left tackle Chad Wheeler and junior first-year center Max Tuerk (a left guard for most of 2013 and left tackle in 2012) -- there is uncertainty at both guard positions, at right tackle, and with overall depth.

How long will it take Drevno to find the starters that will face the Fresno State Bulldogs in the season opener on August 30 in the Coliseum?

"It's a process," Drevno said. "In every offensive line, the evaluation and growth happens at different times."

Besides Wheeler and Tuerk, the Trojans have featured true freshman Toa Lobendahn at left guard, redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers at right guard, and sophomore Zach Banner at right tackle in the first week of practice.

With the arrival of one of the best offensive line recruiting classes in recent school memory, nobody is being guaranteed a starting job this early in camp. This is class appears to be well ahead of the maturity curve, both physically and emotionally.

When asked about his freshmen prodigies, Drevno's enthusiasm elevates.

"I am really excited about them," Drevno said. "All those guys have done a good job, especially sticking them in a fire like that in their first college practice.

"Damien Mama, Viane [Talamaivao], they've hung in there tough, but they made some mistakes like everybody does. You can see they both really love the game. Chris Brown is the same way. This is really a good class, and I am really excited about the future for them."

Two wild cards for the Trojans are returning senior starting guard Aundrey Walker and redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Simmons. Both huge linemen are coming off leg injuries, and their progress in the coming week could intensify the juggling of the offensive line depth chart.

Although he was pronounced physically fit this week by head coach Steve Sarkisian, Walker is still limping noticeably, and the impression is that the Ohio native is still adjusting physically and mentally after his rehab from a broken ankle.

"Walker's situation is coming out, working, and he's working through something right now," Drevno said. "Gosh, we need to get him back."

Simmons appears to have recovered from a knee injury and has impressed Drevno in the early going.

"Gosh, Simmons had a great first day; that's a real positive deal right there," Drevno said. "I am excited. I was pleased with him."

It's still very early in training camp and Drevno knows there's a long ways to go before Fresno State and having to name his starting five. In the meantime, it's an ongoing puzzle still looking for its proper fit.