LOS ANGELES — USC opened training camp last week with two options at center.
There was Nico Falah, a redshirt senior who started there for the final 12 games last season and proved dependable amid a Rose Bowl run. There was also Toa Lobendahn, a redshirt junior who started at center in the season opener. He tore a pair of ligaments in his right knee, causing him to miss the rest of the year.
Through four practices, neither Falah nor Lobendahn, two of the Trojans’ veteran linemen, has settled into one role.
In his post-practice scrums with reporters over the past week, USC coach Clay Helton has noted a plan to “double-train” the two linemen.
Falah has started with the first-team offense at center, but also moved to right tackle. Lobendahn has tried two positions as well, filling in at center, along with left tackle.
Both players were recruited to USC as tackles, but amid openings on the interior of the offensive line, were later moved.
Lobendahn started eight games at left tackle as a freshman in 2014, but his next eight starts in 2015 and 2016 were at left guard and center. All of Falah’s 13 college starts have been at center.
Helton has said “double-training” prepares linemen for the NFL and allows his staff flexibility, should injuries force a reshuffling of the starting unit at some point during the season. USC used as many as four starting centers in 2015.
But it’s also difficult to establishment familiarity in camp.
“It’s definitely a great skill and trait to have,” Lobendahn said of possessing versatility. “But it makes it harder. You gotta think about a couple more things and know the offense.”
Added Falah, “I kind of don’t like it. I’ll be real with you. I wish I could have a position set in stone, but I’m just doing whatever is best for this team. Whether it’s tackle or center, I’ll take the time to master the position.”
Neither iterated a desire to play a particular position, suggesting little preference, but looked forward to a starting unit being establish. Helton has said a depth chart would be determined later this month.
“I want to get some stability,” Lobendahn said.
On at least two occasions Thursday afternoon, Lobendahn had two snaps that rolled on the grass at Howard Jones Field.
Quarterback Sam Darnold said each center has different characteristics.
“It can be hard at times,” Darnold said, “but we’ll have figured it out by the time the season comes and I’ll be comfortable with…