November 19, 2007
Insider: Line tries to stay in one piece, again
Pat Ruel knows better than to hold his breath.
USC's offensive line coach has his projected preseason lineup in place for only the third time this season, as the Trojans prepare for Arizona State on Thanksgiving. The first two games (Arizona and Oregon), All-American left tackle Sam Baker did not make it through, because his torn hamstring acted up each time.
While the unit has suffered injury after injury, only the oft-hobbled left guard Jeff Byers and right tackle Drew Radovich - veterans of two surgeries apiece - have managed to get through the Trojans' first 10 games.
On the plus side, "Because guys are getting experience, guys are getting better," Ruel said. "I've seen some guys improve. For those things, you've got to be happy."
With Baker - who has missed all or most of the past five games - returning, USC has a backup at each position that has started in 2007. From left to right: Butch Lewis (three starts), Alatini Malu (two), Kristofer O'Dowd (three), Zack Heberer (two), Charles Brown (one).
"It's no different than a chorus line. Really. It's no different," Ruel said. "Footwork; stepping off together; being in unison; and fitting in your blocks.
"If somebody comes in and they're stepping with the wrong foot, or they're not doing something quite right, then the blocks don't fit right."
Ruel said he never has been challenged like this in 34 years of coaching. However, things look different from a player's perspective.
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