Tim Drevno on OL: 'When you're a great team, you're a physical team'
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Tim Drevno, a little more than a day into his new role as dual offensive line and running backs coach for USC, was asked every possible way what changes he could realistically make to the line over the final four games of the regular season.
Each time, Drevno reiterated that he needed to see the tape from practice Tuesday to have a better assessment of what he's working with now.
But left guard Chris Brown made it clear that changes are already underway for the unit in the wake of head coach Clay Helton's announcement Monday that former OL coach Neil Callaway had been relieved of his duties.
"Yeah, definitely, they have two completely different coaching styles, I think," Brown said of Drevno and Callaway. "So he's already implemented different techniques and stuff we do different on the run plays. So it's been like kind of a tough transition taking the techniques you've been using the past two or three years and then working something different."
It could be said that whatever USC was working to this point with its offensive line wasn't ... working.
The Trojans rank 115th out of 129 FBS teams in rushing offense at 120.9 yards per game and they're tied for 76th in preventing sacks (allowing 2.25 per game).
The USC offensive line has run the full gamut of struggles this fall, alternating strengths and weaknesses at times while being mostly uneven in every phase -- including even simply snapping the football cleanly.
"I'm going to go watch this practice film and I could tell you tomorrow what we need to improve on. You'll see things I'm preaching tomorrow when I'm coaching, trying to get things fixed and go from there," Drevno said Tuesday.
"... I'm kind of tweaking with things and seeing what they can take and what they can adapt to, and they've done good things here. I'm just taking off where we left and trying to make it better. How much? I don't know. I could tell you after this practice and as the week goes on -- the more and more I meet with them, I get a feel for them."
Drevno coached the USC offensive line in 2014 before spending the last three seasons as Michigan's offensive coordinator and OL coach under Jim Harbaugh, for whom he also worked at San Diego, Stanford and with the San Francisco 49ers.
Some interpreted his hiring as USC's running backs coach after last season to indicate that he'd eventually replace Callaway at his natural position coaching the OL. If that was the plan all along, it was expedited with Helton announcing that change on Monday along with his taking over play-calling duties.
Helton met with Drevno on Monday morning to let him know the plan and then announced the changes to the team that day. Callaway then reached out to his linemen afterward.
"He called me and said, 'I won't be here anymore. I wish it would have worked out better, but good luck,'" Brown shared.
And immediately he noticed the difference in the two coaches' respective approaches.
"Very technique oriented, for sure," Brown said of Drevno. "I think more specific on each player. He doesn't have a problem with kind of stopping group work and kind of helping one guy on just a small thing. ... Definitely hands on and I appreciate that."
Said Drevno: "I told the guys that, hey, I'm leaning upon them to help me understand what they've done in terms of different line calls and things like that. I want to win on Saturday -- that's the No. 1 thing -- and whatever it takes to win we're going to win. So whatever I can bring to the table and help this offense [have] success, that's what I'm here for."
USC has mostly leaned on the same starting five up front all fall with sophomore Austin Jackson at left tackle; Brown, a redshirt-senior, at left guard; redshirt-senior Toa Lobendahn at center; sophomore Andrew Vorhees at right guard; and senior Chuma Edoga at right tackle.
For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus has Brown as one of the highest-graded players on the entire team with a season mark of 75.4 (on a 1-100 scale) while Jackson is at a 70.1 and Edoga a 68.7, the latter two being considered average grades. Vorhees (60.5) and Lobendahn (54.2), the culprit on those errant snaps, are graded considerably lower.
Drevno seemed open to potential changes if he sees something from one of the younger linemen in practice that warrants a longer look.
"Every day you roll out the ball and see the best guys. You've got to produce in practice, and we're looking for the best players to put on the field to win. So nothing's locked in," he said. "You've got to win everyday."
While everything concerning this coaching staff seems tenuous with the Trojans limping to the finish of this season at 4-4, if Helton is brought back next year it seems a safe bet Drevno will remain the offensive line coach.
So ultimately what does he want to establish within the unit?
"It's a mindset, and they've had it here. There's nothing new. You've got guys, you build a chemistry inside the room and when you're a great team, you're a physical team," he said. "When you're a great team, you're a physical team -- that's the easiest way to put it."