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USC lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, one of the top offensive linemen in all of college football, told Yahoo Sports he’s entering the NFL draft.
Vera-Tucker is a fourth-year junior who projects as a top offensive guard prospect in the upcoming NFL draft — he’s considered a top-40 player by NFL scouts and a potential first-round pick. He also brings positional flexibility, as he played left tackle this season after All-Pac-12 honors playing guard as a sophomore.
“One of the main reasons I came back was to compete with my brothers one more time and further my education toward a degree,” Vera-Tucker said in a phone interview. “Now it’s my time. I’m ready. I think it’s time to take that next step.”
Vera-Tucker is a 6-foot-4, 315-pound prospect who considers himself a guard but said he could play tackle “with no hesitation.” He also said he could play center if needed.
Vera-Tucker earned All-Pac-12 honors in a shotgun experiment at left tackle for USC this season. The school had no spring practice and he said he only had two weeks of camp to practice at the position. He starred at guard as a sophomore in 2019 and entered the season as one of the top interior line prospects in the country.
Vera-Tucker initially opted out of the 2020 season when the Pac-12 postponed its season to the spring. He came back when the league announced it would be returning for its shortened season. USC went 5-1 and reached the Pac-12 title game, and Vera-Tucker earned raves in the program for his willingness to attempt and ability to execute his experiment at left tackle. He hadn’t played the position since his time at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland.
“They’ll be getting a competitor,” Vera-Tucker said of the team that drafts him. “The reason for me coming back, I wanted to compete at the highest level again. They’ll get someone who brings juice every day to practice and just wants to get better. No matter how much you play and practice there’s always room for improvement.”
Vera-Tucker said that the move to tackle in 2020 helped give him a better fundamental understanding of offensive line play, as he appreciated the challenge that came with protecting quarterback Kedon Slovis’ blindside.
“I learned how crucial the position is,” he said. “There’s obviously a difference with the guys you are going up against, they are faster or bigger or a mixture of both. It was cool learning how crucial the tackle position is. It was a great experience. I loved playing it.”
Vera-Tucker appreciated his four seasons at USC, where he went from a redshirt in 2017 to a backup in 2018 to an entrenched starter and star in 2019. He appreciated coach Clay Helton, offensive line coach Tim Drevno and assistant athletic director for player development Gavin Morris, who he said has helped him “since Day 1” when he arrived at USC.
“I definitely think I’ve matured a lot,” Vera-Tucker said. “Everyone does when they spend four years in college. From all the coaches’ advice to learning from professors in class, I’ve matured a lot at USC. I’m thankful for that.”
Vera-Tucker said that he’s yet to finalize his workout plans for pre-draft training. He’s looking to improve his speed in the 40-yard dash and his overall strength prior to the NFL combine.
“I think strength is very vital playing on the offensive line,” he said. “That first punch is almost everything in run or pass game.”
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