There has been a lot of talk this summer about the potentially huge combination on the left side of the USC offensive line, with much of that conversation centering around sophomore tackle Aundrey Walker and his physical transformation from 375-pound freshman to his current 300-pound weight.
There's no doubt that Walker deserves credit for getting himself prepared for the task of replacing Matt Kalil at the all-important left tackle position, but there is another member of the left side duo who deserves a lot of credit as well for what he has done so far in his USC career.
All Marcus Martin did last year was solidify a major hole in the Trojans offensive line when he was placed in the starting lineup at left guard in the third game of the season. It was the first time a true freshman had started at offensive guard for the Trojans since Jeff Byers did it in 2004 and Martin never looked back once he got the job. He was a steady presence throughout the season and ended up being named to several freshman All-American teams.
It's not an easy task to start as a true freshman. While most of your peers are still trying to find their way around campus and figuring out how to navigate college life, Martin was also being forced to prepare each week to face mammoth defensive tackles while learning a complex new playbook.
"The first semester was really hard because I had to balance football and school," Martin said. "I got thrown out there with the wolves right away so I had to fight my way through it and do the best I could with school. Things ended up working out pretty well.
"I understand school a lot more now since I've had a chance to get adjusted. The spring semester went well and summer is going really well. I've got a good GPA, I changed my major to public policy and development. There have been a lot of changes in my life but I'm enjoying it."
One of the benefits of that early playing time is that Martin heads into his sophomore season with a clear understanding of his role as one of four returning offensive lineman for a USC offense that is expected to do big things in 2012.
"I'm real comfortable," Martin said. "I'm familiar with the offense and everything is going well. We know the system as an offensive line so we just have to go out there and perform. This line could be amazing -- it could be the best line in the country."
It sounds bold to make that claim considering the Trojans lost a player in Kalil who ended up being the No. 4 overall pick in the recent NFL draft, but Martin stands by his statement.
"We've got the ability to be a dominant force with what we have," Martin said. "We've got one of the best centers in the nation in Khaled Holmes and the rest of us have seen a lot of playing time too."
Martin (6-foot-4, 323 pounds) also understands the reason why USC head coach Lane Kiffin has been so open about envisioning the potential physical mismatches that can be created with the wealth of size that would occur when he's teamed with Walker.
"When we've got to block together, we talk about what we need to do to knock the other guys off the ball," Martin said. "It's cool to have someone like that next to me. Me and Aundrey really love each other, we're like brothers. We play for each other."
Walker also understands the benefits of playing alongside Martin.
"We help each other," Walker said. "What I don't know he helps me with and what he doesn't know I help him with. It's a team effort. We were both fortunate to get playing time last year as freshmen and now we just want to build on that to get ready for the season."
It's a season that is fast approaching but, for now, Marcus Martin and his teammates are simply enjoying the summer and getting ready for what lies ahead.
"We're just having fun as a team and enjoying each other's company," Martin said.