February 17, 2009

Byers leads in-tact offensive line

Late in the season, USC offensive line coach Pat Ruel couldn't hide his excitement over returning every offensive lineman on the team in 2009.

But instead of standing pat with what they have, the Trojans won't surrender to complacency. In fact, sixth-year senior Jeff Byers would be more surprised if the starting offensive line from 2008 returns as the starting offensive line in 2009.

"They talk a lot," Byers said. "It's weird. We haven't lost anybody. It's déjà vu - or Groundhog Day. But don't think because we're all back that it's going to be the same five."

Changes have already begun on the line, with Byers and Alex Parsons taking reps at center with Kristofer O'Dowd recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

"We need a center for spring football, obviously," Byers said. "I have no problem sliding over and doing that this spring. I think that's the plan, to have me and Alex Parsons working there. We'll just be there next year in a back-up role, and maybe we can make the team better that way.

"I've played enough center to know how to play center. I did it enough last year during the season to know what's going on."

Despite the massive number of returners particularly on offense, the departures of Steve Sarkisian to Washington and Mark Sanchez to the NFL will certainly will alter the team's identity.

Byers said he's gotten a chance to spend some time with USC's new playcaller, Jeremy Bates, and said he's been impressed with the young coach.

"Bates is awesome. He's a really good guy. He's completely different (than Sarkisian), but we don't really know Coach Bates that well yet. Who knows? He might be really different on the field," Byers said. "We'll know when he's on the job for more than a month. We know he's a nice guy. He says hi to all of us. He seems really passionate."

And though USC will be without Sanchez, Byers said he's not concerned about protecting a first-time USC starting quarterback like Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain or Matt Barkley.

"We went into it year last year like this. It's football. You have to reload especially in college football. It happens every year," Byers said. "That's why we have great coaches. That's why we have Coach Carroll, to recruit these guys and make us great again.

"We'll be fine."

Byers has gotten a look at Barkley, the newest Trojan, at USC's winter workouts and players-only throwing sessions.

"He fits in well, but until you put the pads on, it's hard to tell if a guy can play or not," Byers said. "You can throw a great ball now, but when a bunch of big guys are running at you, things can change.

"Of course (I'm curious to see what Barkley can do). We don't have a quarterback right now. There's no concrete guy. Whoever makes us the best team possible we'll support."

Byers said he's focused this offseason on staying healthy.

"I'm working on my body and working on my flexibility," he said. "We have a solid group of guys that are coming in for extra work in the weight room. We're starting to work on some footwork stuff too. We've started to do some pass protection stuff too."

Instead of doing these things in preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine and the professional football draft, Byers said he's happy to be a Trojan for a sixth and final season, no matter how early the 6 a.m. workouts force him to wake up.

"Waking up at 5 o'clock every morning for workouts isn't exactly the highlight of my life," he said. "Football is football - wherever you are.

"But I really love this place."

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