New USC OL coach wants unit to slim down

Zach Banner is a key member of USC’s talented offensive line that should be a strength in 2015.

Kevin Carden

New USC offensive line coach Bob Connelly looks at the group he inherited and wants to trim the fat. Literally.

Two of the largest in mass of the group are sophomore guards Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao. Both are noticeably slimmer since the end of last season. While Zach Banner, at 6’9" 350 pounds, is just a large individual. But Connelly would like to see a smaller version of his group as a whole. 

"We’re going to work on leaning them up," Connelly said after wrapping up his first spring practice as a member of the USC staff. "They’re a little bit heavy for my liking."

The top six returners for USC on the offensive line average 6’5" and 315 pounds. 

Connelly replaces Tim Drevno who left the program after one season to reunite with Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. 

The new USC offensive line coach comes from Oklahoma State where he spent the 2014 season in the same position with the Cowboys. 

He has some Pac-12 ties having spent the 2012 season at Arizona State.  Connelly also previously worked at UCLA and for Mike Price at Washington State. As a result a relationship with current running backs coach Johnny Nansen was formed. It was Nansen, Connelly says, who "recommended" him for his current position with USC. 

"Coaching is small, small, small fraternity," he said. 

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The USC offensive line, which was a question mark entering last season, returns seven players who had significant starting experience in 2015 and possesses depth unlike the program has had at that position in recent years. 

Left tackle Chad Wheeler, who is recovering from ACL surgery, is currently rehabbing and could be back in time for fall camp. 

Sophomore Toa Lobendahn moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Wheeler for the final five games last season. Talamaivao started 11 games at right guard, Mama is at left guard, where he made two of his four starts last season, and Banner returns at right tackle where he started every game last season. Khaliel Rodgers started three games at left guard in 2014. 

Nico Falah and Jordan Simmons were welcomed sights on the second unit when the team opened spring practice earlier this week. 

The group will once again be led by senior center Max Tuerk who has now had a different position coach every season he’s been at USC. 

Connelly values Tuerk’s leadership. 

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"Max Tuerk is a great young man, smart, a great leader," Connelly said. "I’m really, really, really excited and happy that we have him at that center position to show these young guys what it takes to be a Trojan and to play at this level." 

To learn more about his unit, Connelly says he’s watched a ton of film and also had discussions with former graduate assistant Kyle DeVan. 

"I like the athleticism, I like the size, like the want to right now," Connelly said. "I like the group right now as a whole."

But the group may need is trim down some for the new position coach. 

"We’ll work on getting them a little bit lighter, getting them in a little bit better football shape, but they’re obviously very talented kids and we got to continue to progress," he said.