Courtland Ford, Jonah Monheim provide glimpse of USC offensive line starting lineup
The two redshirt freshmen had already established themselves as the leading contenders in USC’s left tackle competition, taking turns to see who might fill the glaring hole on the Trojans’ offensive line.
But on Monday, for the first time in fall camp, both Courtland Ford and Jonah Monheim took their places on USC’s first-team offense. Ford was on the left. Monheim was on the right. And senior Jalen McKenzie, after spending the first eight practices at right tackle, was left on the sideline.
USC has made a point of rotating tackles throughout camp, all the while reiterating its plans to find the best five linemen and figure out their positions later. But the deadline to define that line is fast approaching, and Monday’s grouping offered a first glimpse into a line bookended by freshmen, one that could — and perhaps, should — become a reality soon enough.
USC coach Clay Helton said he hoped to have an initial two-deep up-front figured out after the team’s second scrimmage Saturday. The interior already appears to be decided, with Andrew Vorhees and Liam Jimmons at guard and Brett Neilon at center. The intrigue, instead, remains at tackle, where McKenzie has started each of the last two seasons on the right side.
USC coach Clay Helton did not say Jordan Iosefa is retiring from football, but he took pressure off the veteran coping with his third season interrupted by injuries.
Helton said last week that McKenzie made major strides in his fundamentals under offensive line coach Clay McGuire, narrowing his base and had been “ultra-competitive.” But his praise for Monheim has been nothing short of effusive, while Ford was the first to get a crack at the left tackle spot in the spring.
Soon enough, USC’s staff will have to make a decision. That could come, at least unofficially, before USC’s opener against San Jose State to ensure the offensive line has time to conjure up some chemistry.
“We gotta start making tough decisions in the near future because at some point as we get closer to September, we gotta have some chemistry out there,” McGuire said last week. “It can’t be one of those things where they don’t know what they’re going to go into mock week or game week as far as which side they’re going to play. So as we get closer to that date, we really need to settle in and start building some chemistry and continuity amongst those guys at the positions they want to play.”
Helton said USC should have “a semblance of who is going to be the two-deep for the offensive line next week.” But he assured that the tackles will still be competing through September regardless.
Fellow redshirt freshman Casey Collier has not been among them for the past week as he returned home to Texas for “personal reasons,” Helton said on Monday. But Collier is expected to return on Tuesday.
“He’ll jump right back in,” Helton said. “Obviously a young player that’s developing. We’ve been fortunate to be able to work, as you’ve seen out there, from Jalen to Jonah to Andrew Vorhees got some reps out there, Courtland Ford, to have him back, I tell you what, Mason Murphy has done a really nice job too, had a really good scrimmage, had a good last week, is really ahead as a freshman. So we’ve got some good candidates.”
As USC draws closer to the end of camp, the injuries continue to pile up. Among those who sat out on Monday:
— Running back Keaontay Ingram (ankle) is expected back later this week after sitting out the last three practices. Fellow transfer back Darwin Barlow (hamstring) is expected to return by next week.
— Tight end Malcolm Epps seemed set for a role in USC’s offense, but turf toe will sidelined him for at least the next three to four weeks, Helton said.
— Freshman defensive end Korey Foreman played through a strained groin during Saturday’s scrimmage, making his strong performance all the more impressive. But Foreman sat out after trying to give it a go. His injury isn’t expected to hold him out long.
—Cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart sat out with a knee bruise to the same knee he’d injured last season. Taylor-Stuart is expected back soon, but he may have a harder time winning his starting cornerback job when he does. Corners Joshua Jackson and Jayden Williams played with the first-team offense on Monday, while Chris Steele, the Trojans’ top corner, sat out in health and safety protocols.
— USC did suffer two season-ending injuries over the last week, as cornerback Adonis Otey had surgery on a broken bone in his wrist and safety Briton Allen suffered a torn ligament in his knee.
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