As USC enters fall practice, optimism abounds for a team that is desperately looking to wash the bad taste of a disappointing 2012 season out of its collective mouth.
Sporting a new defensive scheme, a returning All-American wide receiver and a stable of talented running backs, there are plenty of reasons for the Trojan faithful to nourish good thoughts of the year to come.
Of course, those happy feelings are tempered by reasonable concerns, and among those are determining who the quarterback will be and a troubling set of cornerbacks who have yet to find a much success defending the pass.
Oh, and there is at least one other thing that should be bothering those who follow the Men of Troy.
You see, in buying time to acclimate the mysterious unnamed quarterback, USC will have to rely on a stout running game, and of course, success on the ground starts with the "big uglies" up front.
And it is here where fans—and the coaches—should be at least a little worried.
Under the best of circumstances, USC will be featuring a new-look offensive line in 2013 with a neophyte center (Marcus Martin) and left guard (Max Tuerk), both of whom will be playing new positions.
In and of itself, this isn't too much of a problem, as both of these players are very talented and have looked good in practice.
But they aren't the only source of angst for USC when it comes to the O-line.
No, the big issue—literally and figuratively—is the guy who plays arguably the most important position up front.
Aundrey Walker will enter his third season as a Trojan still looking to master the fine nuances that come with playing left tackle.
Responsible for covering the quarterbacks "blind side," Walker's failure to do so last year against UCLA resulted in the Trojans losing quarterback Matt Barkley after the Bruins Anthony Barr lit him up when Walker whiffed on a block.
If that had been Walker's only transgression it would be one thing, but earlier in the year, Lane Kiffin was forced to play the aforementioned Tuerk when Walker's spotty play forced Kiffin's hand.
Now to be fair, it should be understood that in terms of potential, there are not many that hold more promise than Mr. Walker.
Big (6'6", 300 pounds) and extremely nimble, Walker has everything one looks for in a dominant left tackle.
Except consistency, that is.
In that area, Walker can look fantastic one play and completely lost the next. This is not an attribute that gives Kiffin and his coaches a "warm fuzzy" when game-planning the offense.
So the coaching staff will do its best to get Walker to play to his enormous talent, and if they are successful, USC should be just fine on the offensive line in 2013.
But what if they aren't able to work that magic, or what if the big guy gets hurt?
This is where it gets a bit dicey.
According to the spring depth chart, redshirt junior Nathan Guertler will back up Walker, and he is a walk-on.
That's right, a walk-on.
Now to be fair to Guertler, this kid is good. At least 6'5" and 275 pounds, Guertler has the frame and talent to hold his own on the line.
In fact, Evan Budrovich tweeted the following after viewing Guertler on the first day of fall practice:
Backup OT Nathan Guertler (RS Junior, Norco CA) looked a lot larger, stronger than 6-5 275 frame on USC Website. Took Summer seriously #USC— Evan Budrovich (@evanbud) August 4, 2013
So that is encouraging, but is that really the plan? Start a walk-on?
Another option the coaching staff has is to pull Tuerk back out of his left-guard spot and have him slide one position to the left.
In this scenario, backup Giovanni Di Poalo would likely start for Tuerk, which may or may not raise another whole set of problems if he isn't ready.
Or maybe the loser of the Kevin Graf-Chad Wheeler battle to start at right tackle could try his luck on the opposite side. Who knows?
Given the myriad of possibilities—none of which should excite Trojan fans—USC appears to be "all in" with Walker, and God forbid anything happens to him.
All of which means that fans of the program had better keep their fingers crossed that there is no need for plan B.
Or C, for that matter.
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