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What’s Up Front Will Count Too

Times Staff Writer

Most discussions about USC’s offense concern how the Trojans will replace the marquee names in the backfield.

The offensive line, however, also lost three starters.

Guard Taitusi Lutui completed his eligibility and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the NFL draft. Tackle Winston Justice and guard Fred Matua skipped their final seasons of eligibility. Justice was a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles, Matua a seventh-round choice of the Detroit Lions.

Senior center Ryan Kalil and All-American left tackle Sam Baker, a junior, anchor this year’s line, with sophomore Chilo Rachal at right guard, senior Kyle Williams at right tackle and sophomore Jeff Byers and junior Drew Radovich battling for the left guard spot.

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Depth, however, could be an issue. The Trojans experienced a game-type scenario Friday when Rachal was involved in a collision that knocked him out of practice. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore was on the ground for 10 minutes before he was assisted to the trainer’s tent and eventually walked to the locker room.

Coach Pete Carroll described it as “the official bell ringer” and said Rachal would be monitored for headaches and other symptoms over the next few days.

Junior Alatini Malu stepped into Rachal’s spot, but Radovich might be the one who eventually emerges this season as USC’s most valuable jack-of-all-trades.

Radovich, 6-5 and 305 pounds, has played tackle and center. The fourth-year junior from Mission Viejo has been hindered by injuries throughout his career but says he is healthy and ready to play a prominent role.

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“I’m fully confident I can play that left guard spot, but I’m available as that sixth man if it comes to that,” said Radovich, who redshirted last season after having hip surgery.

Offensive line coach Pat Ruel said Radovich also would work at center.

“He’s a smart guy with good athletic ability, and he’s pretty healthy right now,” Ruel said. “This team really needs him.”

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Carroll is approaching the point of becoming worried about junior defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

Jackson, the team’s most experienced defensive lineman, has sat out a week because of a strained groin. The Trojans open the season Sept. 2 at Arkansas.

“When it starts getting into the last two weeks, that’s when you start getting concerned about it,” Carroll said. “He’s giving Kyle Moore a great chance to be a starter.”

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Safety Taylor Mays continues to impress.

The 6-4, 225-pound freshman from Seattle has made several big plays and is on track to play as a backup in the opener.

Carroll said Mays was “as good a learner as we’ve had.”

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Cornerback Kevin Thomas continues to undergo tests to determine the nature of a neck or shoulder injury, Carroll said. Cornerback Cary Harris, who is battling for a starting job, delivered some of the biggest hits for the second day in a row.... Tailback Desmond Reed was absent because he was having his knee evaluated, Carroll said. Reed, who had surgery after suffering ligament and nerve damage last season against Notre Dame, has said he hoped to be cleared for contact by the opener.


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