The USC Trojans are working hard to meet the expectations of their No. 1 preseason ranking and their explosive offense is shaping into form as they wrap up their preseason practice sessions. Heisman-favorite quarterback Matt Barkley is leading the offense, throwing to the dynamic duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and running back Curtis McNeal will have some company with the new addition of Silas Redd.
What's the only thing missing from the Trojans offense?
An experienced left tackle.
After graduating Matt Kalil, the Minnesota Vikings' new offensive tackle, last season, Lane Kiffin has been looking for someone to fill his (literally) big shoes. The Trojans are teed up to have one of their best seasons yet, but Matt Barkley will need strong blind slide protection to complete critical passes this year. With the 2012 season just days away, it has been the tale of two tackles for the Trojans, with sophomore Aundrey Walker and freshman Max Tuerk in contention for the top spot.
Let’s compare these two offensive linemen.
After serving as a backup offensive tackle in 2011, Walker was primed to succeed Kalil in his sophomore season, however injuries have slowed down his succession. The 6’6’’, 300 lbs. left tackle missed most of training camp due to a dislocated right shoulder and sprained AC joint. However, Walker is now back on the field, and what he currently lacks physically, he makes up for mentally.
Now to the true freshman, Tuerk.
The 6’4’’, 285 lbs. Santa Margarita graduate was a superstar in high school who will only get bigger and stronger as he matures as a Trojan lineman. Tuerk played both strong and weak side in high school, and that versatility has helped create more depth on the Trojans offensive line. However, Coach Kiffin has said that he would rather have the true freshman excel at just one side, so don’t expect to see Tuerk’s ambidextrous play at USC unless there is an emergency.
Fun fact: Tuerk will be wearing No. 75 on the field, which was Kalil’s number while at USC. Coincidence? I think not.
Despite Walker’s injuries, it looks as if he will take the starting left tackle job, at least for the USC's first game against Hawaii on Sept. 1. His year of collegiate experience landed him the spot over Tuerk. Don’t’ expect Tuerk to sit behind Walker all season, though, as he will definitely get some playing time, and possible starting time, down the line.
Obviously the transition from losing a left tackle that was the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft to possible replacement by a true freshman will be hard for the Trojans to initially overcome. The left tackle role requires a true athlete with quick feet to hold off the opponents top pass-rushers. It will be interesting to see how both Tuerk and Walker develop this season to replace the talent and skills of a star left tackle like Matt Kalil…but that’s what makes college football so interesting.