Safe and Excellent — That’s Vera-Tucker

Whicker: USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker enters NFL draft with comfort of consensus

The ability to play different positions and maintain consistency could make him the top guard drafted April 29

Mark Whicker (OC Register)  —  In a better world, instant opinion would be as scorned as instant coffee. NFL Draft Night is not a better world.

The urge to be immediately wrong is what turns it into spectacle, what makes Philadelphia fans boo because the Eagles picked Donovan McNabb instead of Ricky Williams, what makes Mel Kiper Jr. proclaim authoritatively that Andre Wadsworth should be higher on the board than Peyton Manning.

Alijah Vera-Tucker is shielded from such furor when the names get called April 29.

He is the USC offensive lineman who played three positions in three years. He stayed for the 2020 season and, even though he saw how disjointed and uncertain it might be, refused to opt-out.

He will be picked somewhere between the middle and the end of the first round of the draft, although Pro Football Focus’ most recent exercise did not include him until the second round.

No one will call Vera-Tucker a “reach,” the most glaring scarlet letter of all on draft night. In fact, he is known as a “safe” or “clean” pick in this pageant, a player who attracts consensus. So he should enjoy draft night. He will be as protected as he intends for his quarterback to be.

“He could be a perennial All-Pro as a guard,” said Daniel Jeremiah, the analyst for NFL Network. “He’s highly intelligent with great character. Teams around the league value this kid.”

Vera-Tucker was a right guard as a redshirt freshman, a left guard two years ago and a left tackle last season. He was charged with five sacks and eight hurries for his career, and that includes a rough night against Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon’s unblockable edge rusher, in the Pac-12 championship game last season.

“It was a wise decision for him to come back last year,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “He put down some extra tape for the scouts.”

“If you watch the NFL, you see the principles of the Air Raid is what they’re moving toward,” Vera-Tucker said. “I was able to raise my stock playing tackle, even though it was a little weird at first. It was important to get those reps.”

Guard is usually a stepchild position in the draft. The diamonds are found at tackle. Only 13 guards have been first-rounders in the past 10 drafts.

“But I don’t think the Colts regret taking Quenton Nelson where they did,” Jeremiah said, knowing that the All-Pro from Notre Dame was No. 6 in the 2018 draft, one pick ahead of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.

Vera-Tucker began his journey at Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland. “We draw kids for basketball,” said assistant coach Jay Beito, “but you gotta be exceptional to do that. Alijah wasn’t going to do that. His sophomore year, we sat him down, told him he had to get serious. He started showing up consistently, developing technique and range of motion.”

The head coach was Napoleon Kaufman, the ex-Raider who is now a minister in Hayward. Kaufman got a menu from a nutritionist at Cal, filled up a quarter of Vera-Tucker’s plate with proteins and the rest with carbohydrates and green, leafy stuff. The more complex carbs came later. The goal was to get to a solid 300. Vera-Tucker is now 308.

“He had great feet because he’d played soccer,” Beito said. “He would take a 10-pound medicine ball and throw it against a wall, rotating his hips and wrists. He’d tear that up. He was real strong with his rotational power and torque.

“He’d get on the field and the kids across from him were getting launched. His senior year, he was literally picking up kids and throwing them. We said, that’s not legal, what you’re doing. He was at tackle and he was getting the guards to do the same thing. And we won a state championship.”

At USC, he quickly caught the notice of veteran lineman Toa Lobendahn, now on the Trojans’ staff.

“In drills, his hands were fast, and he could latch on guys a lot better than I did at the same stage,” Lobendahn said. “Then he became dominant. Now that he’s played tackle, it’ll help him. Being multiple is important in the league.”

Vera-Tucker credits Tim Drevno, the former USC line coach, with sharpening his details. “He was always willing to change things to something that worked better,” he said.

“I’m not the type of guy to look at the mock drafts or anything. If I do, I see them from family. It’s not hard to ignore. I just put my head down and work. Wherever I end up, I’ll be blessed.”

And, for one night, he’ll be safe.

ocregister.com

__________

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Trojan5
Knighted Member
Trojan5 (@trojan5)
April 20, 2021 2:02 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The full article by Stewart Mandel was very good. Commentary about SC and the conference were spot on.

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
April 22, 2021 6:25 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

YMCA youth camp–that is Clay Helton’s place. You know it. I know it. The American People know it.

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
April 20, 2021 10:55 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think Bohn very much grasps what is coming in collegiate football. While the short term future for SC football is depressing, the long term is not. I think the firing of Larry Scott evidenced a major shift in focus by the Pac 12 Presidents. Sonny Dykes is not the only person to realize that under Scott’s leadership, the Pac 12 deteriorated!

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
April 20, 2021 3:28 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The LA schools need to want to be great first

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
April 19, 2021 10:15 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

It’s on Allen. Per the Helton philosophy this was an amazing learning experience for the o-line that will vault the Trojans to the National Championship. I know you believe the Trojans will do better than you did a month ago.
I just don’t see any improvement in the offense. Just the opposite, USC will be decided worse on offense this year.

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
April 20, 2021 2:20 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I fear it is going to be a long season.

ATL D.D.S.
Diamond Member
ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
April 20, 2021 5:59 am
Reply to  UtahTrojan

Yes. Too bad because we have some great talent at the skills positions and on defense, but the O-line has been neglected again, just like every year of the Helton Clown Regime. I think Clay thinks our game is a flag football variety.

UtahTrojan
Knighted Member
UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
April 20, 2021 3:30 pm
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Flag football is how he coaches so why not

usc50
Active Member
usc50 (@usc50)
April 20, 2021 6:42 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The problem started when USC hired a HC without HC experience. Would you hire a doctor to operate when hasn’t done it before? Yes, Helton is learning on the job and getting somewhat better. But he made a lot of initial mistakes hiring relatives and friends. And Calloway set the OL back for a long time. Drevno was not a bad OL coach, but decent. Some of the problems remain like not being able to make in game adjustments. And not being proactive in fixing problems. And not practicing correctly. Those problems can only be fixed by finding a HC… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
Diamond Member
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
April 20, 2021 10:37 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen, Great post! It is tough times to be an SC football fan. Clay simply lacks the capacity to be a quality Power 5 head football coach. His “ceiling” as a HC is a mediocre Ivy League head coach. SC football is simply in the tank until Donte (or someone like him) takes over the program. It is a huge opportunity for him and with the NILs coming on line in the few year and the one time transfer rule coming on line this year, the entire landscape of collegiate football is about to change. Folt will lose her ability… Read more »