Camp Battle: The Big Uglies

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Keith Jackson, the famed former voice of college football, used to call offensive linemen "the big uglies," but USC's unit is fashion forward.

Khaled Holmes keeps his afro well coiffed.  Abe Markowitz's mullet meets the business in the front, party in the back standard.  Matt Kalil and others have sported mohawks during fall camp.

Plus, special teams coach John Baxter has big men catching practice, so if offensive line coach James Cregg is not careful, he's going to have guys begging for tackle-eligible receptions.

"I don't know about that," Cregg told me after practice.

After a spring with only five healthy linemen, Cregg will settle for bodies with or without receiving skills.

"It's goin' good...knock on wood."

At this point, Cregg has all of his scholarship linemen healthy with the exception of senior Butch Lewis.  While Lewis was not a definitive starter at any one position, his versatility makes him indispensable to this unit.

"He's very important because he fills both positions.  He can play both tackle and guard.  We got to get him back in the mix."

Lewis hopes to return next week.  In his stead, 6'6" 300 pound redshirt freshman Kevin Graf has filled the hole at one of the guard spots.

The starting five has taken shape since Matt Kalil returned from an early camp leg injury.  Kalil has grabbed hold of the left tackle spot with Tyron Smith manning the other side.

Inside, Khaled Holmes and Kevin Graf are running with the first team at guard with Lewis on the sidelines.

On the ball, Kristofer O'Dowd is expected to lead this unit from the center position.

"I'm really pleased with how he's responded.  He's got to watch his knee.  He's had some knee issues, but so far in camp, he seems healthy and moving around pretty good."

To make up for the depth issues that arose during spring, Cregg is training many of his linemen to play multiple roles.

"We've got some guys playing a lot of different positions, which has been good in camp.  We've trained guys in other areas and health has been great."

Freshman Giovanni Di Poalo is the only blocker in this year's class, which is the root of the problem. 

With the scholarship reductions, the Trojans cannot afford to miss on young prospects.  Cregg is certain that Di Poalo will develop into a contributing player.

"He's been playing some center and some tackle and rotated in there at that. He's going to be a good player."

While the concentration has been on developing the reserves, Coach Cregg does not envision rotating his best five much within a game.

"I would like to always have five.  I'm not a big rotation guy unless we needed it.  I'd like to just have the five that go with it."

The Trojan five that Cregg chooses may see the games as a respite from battling against the uber-talented USC defensive line.

"Without a doubt, those guys are the best.  They are well coached and they're going to get us better.  Everyday we go up against those guys, it's going to make us a better unit up front."

When asked to describe his unit's greatest attribute, Cregg responded in one word.


Hands and hair must have just missed the cut.

Top row from left to right: Kalil, Holmes and Markowitz are rocking sweet 'dos.

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