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Sunday, February 28, 2010
USC's Mays: I can make plays

By Tim MacMahon

INDIANAPOLIS – USC safety Taylor Mays, who has a rare blend of size and speed, was projected as a top-five pick entering his senior season. It’s now a possibility that he could be available with the Cowboys go on the clock at No. 27.

For a defense determined to get more playmaking from its safeties, Mays doesn’t seem to be a good fit despite his freakish physical skills. The 6-3, 230-pound Mays, who is expected to run in the 4.4s, only made six interceptions in four seasons as the Trojans’ starting free safety.

“I’m going to have to be more aware of when the ball is in the air,” Mays said. “Turnovers are a big deal. It’s not something I can’t do. I know I can do it. It’s just an element I’ll have to add to my game.”

That’s a tough element to add in the NFL.

The other concern with Mays, who might end up playing linebacker, is that he’s vulnerable in coverage despite his great speed. He’s been compared to ex-Cowboy Roy Williams because he’s a big hitter with tight hips.

By cutting Williams, the Cowboys shifted the emphasis with their safeties to coverage ability. Dallas learned the hard way that modern-day NFL offenses can expose safeties by getting creative with pass-catching tight ends or multi-receiver formation.

Coach Wade Phillips has had success with a smash-mouth, big-bodied safety before. Eight-time Pro Bowler Steve Atwater (6-3, 220) started in Phillips’ scheme as a rookie for the Denver Broncos.

But the league has changed since then. How well Mays fits is up for debate, perhaps while the Cowboys are on the clock.