Pac-12: Brian Cushing

It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.
Has he lost his mind
Can he see or is he blind
Can he walk at all
Or if he moves will he fall?

Defensive NFL ROY has Pac-10 flavor

January, 7, 2010
1/07/10
12:15
PM ET
I know this is a day late, but take a gander at this:


What do you notice?

That the former Pac-10 defensive players went one, two, three in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

Not too shabby.

Five Pac-10 defensive players are candidates to be drafted in the first two rounds this spring: UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price, USC safety Taylor Mays, USC defensive end Everson Griffen, California cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu. Oregon State's junior defensive tackle Stephen Paea would join that list if he opts to enter the draft.

Wonder if any of them will challenge Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry or Gerald McCoy for 2010 Rookie of the Year honors?

Pac-10 on All-Decade team

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
6:38
PM ET
ESPN Rise put together an All-Decade team that it described like this: "Based on high school accomplishment and including performances in college and the NFL."

You can see the offensive and defensive squads here, along with the second- and third-teams.

The Pac-10 players who made the first-team are:

Offense

OL Jeff Byers, USC

RB Maurice Jones-Drew, UCLA

ATH Reggie Bush, USC

ATH DeSean Jackson, California

Defense

DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon

LB Brian Cushing, USC

USC's no-name linebackers aren't so bad

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
12:06
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Poor ole USC. What is it to do? All of its wonderful, scary linebackers are gone to the NFL. Boy, are the Trojans going to be in trouble in 2009.

No more Maualuga, Cushing -- Cush! -- Matthews or Maiava. Even the names sounded slightly menacing. Heck, Rey Maualuga even became a folk hero and YouTube sensation for his blow-up hits.
 
 Ric Tapia/Icon SMI
 Middle linebacker Chris Galippo leads the Trojans with 32 tackles.


Into their place stepped Smith, Morgan and Galippo. That's two common, yawn-inducing surnames and a third that recalls a failed campaign in World War I.

Poor ole USC. Five games into the season, its no-name defense -- other than fancypants safety Taylor Mays -- only ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (8.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (238.6 yards per game) and fifth in run defense (64.8 yards per game). It has surrendered no -- zero -- touchdown passes. It's the only team in the nation with a clean sheet.

Seems like these no-names aren't half-bad, particularly the linebackers.

"You can't say enough good things about their defense," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "And they're losing all those -- everyone's, 'Oh, they're losing all these guys to the NFL from last year!' and it doesn't seem like they've missed a beat."

Weis has reason for concern as he prepares for a visit from the sixth-ranked Trojans on Saturday. Sure, his offense averages 33 points a game and ranks 10th in the nation with 470 yards per contest, but the Fighting Irish have scored three points against USC in their past two meetings and haven't faced a defense that even approaches the Trojans' depth and talent level.

And this USC defense, as shocking as it might be to say about a unit that replaced eight starters, including four linebackers who were NFL draft picks, might be just as good as -- or at least comparable to -- last year's unit, which was widely regarded as one of the best in college football history.

It starts at linebacker, where Chris Galippo, a sophomore in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith, juniors on the outside, are nearly matching the production of Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Kaluka Maiava.

It's a different style, of course, starting with the fact the Trojans are back to their standard 4-3 look after in large part playing a 3-4 last year. The Trojans' linebacker-heavy front in 2008 was more physically intimidating but not as fast and not always as sound as this year's crew.

"Our guys now are very disciplined, very strict about everything they are doing -- probably more accurately fitting in runs than the other guys had done in the past when they'd kind of clutter their way through," said Trojans coach Pete Carroll, who calls the defensive plays.

Morgan leads the Pac-10 with 9.5 tackles for a loss. Smith has played well, but has struggled with a sprained ankle, though he should be full-go this weekend.

The revelation has been Galippo. He leads the team with 32 tackles -- five for a loss -- with an interception and four pass breakups. A good but not great athlete -- unlike nearly everyone else who starts for USC -- he's showcased uncanny instincts that often guide him toward big plays, most notably his first-quarter interception and 51-yard return at Ohio State that set up the Trojans' first touchdown in an 18-15 victory.

"Galippo's speed on the field is because of his reading ability and his instincts -- he plays fast on the football field," Carroll said.

Galippo, a sophomore, also seems to get motivated by perceived slights. Early in the season, he talked about how no one knew who he or his fellow linebackers were. This week, he recalled a recruiting visit to Notre Dame when he felt Weis ignored him in order to focus on quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

"They were trying to get Jimmy to commit," Galippo said. "It was no big deal. I came home and committed to USC about three days later."

Of course, Galippo knows the deal. Standouts at USC don't get ignored very long. They start to make all-conference and All-American lists and then NFL draft gurus start ranking them.

Galippo, though outgoing and articulate, notes that he, Smith and Morgan aren't the "big personality" guys of the past. He emphasizes staying humble as the talk of rebuilding ends and the discussion transitions toward celebrating the next great Trojans defense.

"The better we play and the more games we win, and the more big-time offenses we shut down, the notoriety is going to go up," he said. "People will start noticing us. But we've got to keep the mentality of going out every day and working hard and continuing to try to earn our spot. As soon as we start thinking you're big time and start taking things for granted, you don't play as well."

Poor ole USC?

Correction: That's poor young USC. Galippo, Smith and Morgan all are expected to return in 2010.

Pac-10 Q&A: USC LB Chris Galippo

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
11:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.

Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.

He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.

Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.

The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.

But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.

From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?

CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.

Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?

CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.

Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?

Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.

Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'

CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.

Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'

How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?

CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.

Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]

You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.

CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.

Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?

CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.

Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.

CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.

So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?

CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.

That's not very catchy.

CG: [Laughs]

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
9/10/09
9:30
AM ET
AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

Reload, not rebuild, for USC defense

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
8:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- A no-name defense at USC? Not possible.

But that's exactly what middle linebacker Chris Whatshisname, er, Galippo believes the Trojans are this year.

"We were walking through the Trojan huddle [before the game] and people were like, 'Who are you? Who are you?'" he said. "We're starters! But no one really knows. Taylor [Mays] has a little bit of that, but for the first time in a while the front seven doesn't have a guy who is like the guy."

At least for now. If the Trojans defense keeps holding opponents to just 121 total yards as it did in a 56-3 victory over San Jose State, Mays won't be the only one with his name in lights.

The Spartans had 67 yards in the first quarter, but after that Galippo and company shut things down, giving up just nine yard rushing, forcing two fumbles and recording five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss. Galippo led the way with nine tackles, including three for a loss.

That's not the sort of effort that keeps a guy anonymous for long.

Coach Pete Carroll laughed when asked how the defense played, pointing at the stats. The Trojans have now held opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense in seven of their last nine games.

Said coordinator Rocky Seto, who was promoted from secondary coach after Nick Holt bolted for Washington, "The defense looked really fast. I was really pleased with the way they performed today."

The Trojans only welcomed back three starters from 2008's dominant crew, only one of whom -- nose tackle Christian Tupou -- played on the front seven.

With the loss of four linebackers -- both Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews were hybrid linebacker/ends -- Seto said the Trojans are more "defensive-line focused." He said the Trojans, more of a 3-4 look last year, are now look more like a true 4-3.

But that doesn't necessarily mean there will be a big step back.

"I don't think there is going to be much drop-off," Galippo said.

How does Galippo describe the new-look Trojans?

"Fast, smart and disciplined," he said. "Obviously young. But I really don't think we have a big ego."

Mays, the senior and two-time All-American, didn't think the performance was perfect, but he was already thinking ahead to the visit to Ohio State on Saturday.

"We didn't tackle well," Mays said. "A big quarterback like Terrelle Pryor can breaks some tackles."

Pac-10 spring wrap-up: What we learned

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

We spent a lot of time talking about quarterbacks this spring in the Pac-10, most particularly USC's quarterback competition -- did ya hear, Aaron Corp's No. 1 but this freshman Matt Barkley looks like the bees' knees!

The other general theme isn't new: After reviewing the tea leaves on the table, does any team have the karmic -- and talent -- potential to unseat USC from the top of the Pac-10?

The answer? Maybe.

What we learned. Or developed a hunch about.

1. Oregon State's quarterback situation is ... interesting: You have two starting quarterbacks who are seniors. One is going to sit. No other way to describe it. Lyle Moevao threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last year but he sat out spring practices with a shoulder injury, which is exactly what happened to Sean Canfield last year before he lost his starting job. By the way, Canfield went 3-0 -- two starts -- subbing for Moevao in 2008. Though he struggled in the spring game with three interceptions, Canfield played well enough throughout that he probably owns a slight lead heading into the offseason.

2. USC's defense may not be as good as 2008, but it's probably as good as anyone else: The 2008 USC defense had more future NFL players on it than any other unit in the nation. And the 2009 version might not be any different, though there's clearly youth and inexperience to fret about from the Trojans' perspective. Still, start with perhaps the best secondary in the nation, led by safeties Taylor Mays and Josh Pinkard. Then consider the breakout spring of end Everson Griffen, who could win the Pac-10 sack title if he remains focused. Further, word is the three new linebackers might not match the NFL-ready standard of Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, but Malcolm Smith, Chris Galippo and Michael Morgan are faster. Toss in some impressive youngsters up front, and it's hard to imagine this crew not ranking among the nation's top 10 in just about every category.

3. The conference of ... running backs: The Pac-10 might feature the best collection of running backs in the nation. Five 1,000-yard rushers are schedule to return, including California's Jahvid Best, the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate, and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award as a true freshman. Toss in Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, a potential first-day NFL draft pick in 2010, and Stanford's Toby Gerhart and Arizona's Nic Grigsby, not to mention the six-deep stable of runners at USC, and the battle for first-team Pac-10 might be more arduous than All-American.

4. But can anyone block? Three teams that ran the ball well last year -- Arizona, Oregon and Oregon State -- lost three starting offensive linemen, including early-round NFL draft picks. Four others -- Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State -- were just lousy up front last fall. Even Stanford and California, which should be fairly stout, lost their best blockers from 2008. The conference's only sure thing up front is USC, which welcomes back its entire starting five, including All-American center Kristopher O'Dowd. Moreover, the teams that entered spring with questions on the line didn't get many answers three weeks later. O-line play might be the most critical issue facing the conference in 2009, even more so than at quarterback.

5. Sarkisian and Kelly bring new energy: Steve Sarkisian and Chip Kelly inherited completely different situations, but both made a mark by upping the intensity of practices. Sarkisian, of course, took over a lifeless program that Tyrone Willingham ran into the ground (uncharitable, but inarguable). He opened up practices and practically begged boosters and old Huskies greats to come visit. He also increased the tempo and energy level of practices -- heck, everything around the team -- which might do more than anything to get the Huskies a handful of wins next fall. Meanwhile, Kelly took over for one of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Bellotti, and brought a little East Coast volume to Ducks practices. He's not completely renovating the Ducks, who finished in the nation's top 10 last year, but he's going to add his own coat of paint -- which at Oregon, as you known, probably will be a fairly loud shade.

USC spring wrap-up

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
9:10
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC Trojans
2008 overall record: 12-1

2008 conference record: 8-1

Returning starters

Offense 9, defense 3, kicker/punter 0

Top returners

WR Damian Williams, C Kristofer O'Dowd, OT Charles Brown, OG Jeff Byers, TB Stafon Johnson, TB Joe McKnight, FS Taylor Mays, CB Josh Pinkard, DE Everson Griffen.

Key losses

QB Mark Sanchez, LB Rey Maualuga, LB Brian Cushing, DE Clay Matthews, DT Fili Moala, SS Kevin Ellison.

2008 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Stafon Johnson* (705)
Passing: Mark Sanchez (3,207)
Receiving: Damian Williams (869)
Tackles: Rey Maualuga (79)
Sacks: Kyle Moore (5)
Interceptions: Cary Harris, Drew McAllister*, Kevin Thomas* (3)

2009 Schedule
Sep. 5 San Jose State
Sep. 12 at Ohio State
Sep. 19 at Washington
Sep. 26 Washington State
Oct. 3 at California
Oct. 17 at Notre Dame
Oct. 24 Oregon State
Oct. 31 at Oregon
Nov. 7 at Arizona State
Nov. 14 Stanford
Nov. 28 UCLA
Dec. 5 Arizona

Spring answers

1. Reload at LB: Sure, the Trojans lost three first-day NFL draft picks at linebacker, but it's hard to find anyone around the program worried about the position. With Chris Galippo in the middle, and Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith flanking him, this unit will be faster than last year. That said, incoming freshmen Frankie Telford and Jarvis Jones may be able to work their way into the rotation.

2. Griffen steps up: Defensive end Everson Griffen has always been a spectacular talent, but his focus and work ethic haven't been consistent. Until this spring, at least, when Griffen joined Smith as the defense's standout player. He leads a young defensive line that flashed brilliance at times this spring.

3. If the QBs come through ...: With nine starters back and depth at every position, the Trojans' offense doesn't appear to have any weaknesses. Of course, the guy who's going to distribute the ball -- either Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley -- will be making his second career start at Ohio State, which gets a qualified, "Yikes!"

Fall questions

1. Is Barkley really in this? While coach Pete Carroll has long shown no fear starting -- or at least playing -- true freshmen, he has yet to do that at quarterback, where a pattern of sitting for three years and learning the system has been established. Corp emerged from spring the clear leader at the position, but Barkley flashed passing talent that's hard to ignore. Can Barkley really beat out Corp, and if he doesn't will he be the backup and burn his redshirt in 2009?

2. How will the tailback rotation go? With Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler making statements this spring -- particularly McNeal -- it appears that the Trojans are again a six-headed monster at tailback. There's just one ball, but there's Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight, Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable, with Gable presently the favorite to get his carries cut due to fumbling issues. Or will McKnight's inability to stay healthy -- at least during practices -- suddenly be recognized as a problem?

3. Who's the kicker? Joe Houston seemed to emerge with a small lead over Jordan Congdon at kicker, but touted JC transfer Jacob Harfman arrives in the fall, and Harfman could end up kicking and punting.

Let's ask USC's Taylor Mays who's the nation's best safety

May, 5, 2009
5/05/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

USC's Taylor Mays is never going to be called modest, and he almost always speaks his mind, so when he's asked about Tennessee's Eric Berry -- Mays' rival for the unofficial title of nation's best safety -- what fuels his response might be surprising.

 
  Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
  Taylor Mays skipped an early shot at the NFL and returned for his senior season at USC.

A lot of respect.

Given a chance to proclaim his supremacy, even in a tongue-in-cheek way, Mays plays the question straight, his tone taking on a rare seriousness.

"People ask me that a lot, but we're different," Mays said "We play on different teams in different defenses in different conferences. From what I know about him and what I've seen of him, I know he is a hell of a football player. I'm not competing with him and I know he's not competing with me. We're competing with ourselves and just trying to be the best we can be as individuals and I'm sure that's how he looks at it, too."

Well then. Scratch the "Mays trash talks Berry" angle. Drat.

There's a good reason for that. Berry, a junior, is hard to trash talk. He may not be as big as Mays or even as fast as Mays -- though true speed won't be determined until the NFL combine -- but his nose for the ball is extraordinary (see 12 interceptions in two seasons, with five going back for touchdowns).

Mays has four interceptions in three years, none returned for scores. And he didn't pick off a pass all of last season.

This is when USC folks will jump from their chairs and talk about how Mays plays a different role, and his responsibilities as a centerfielder for the Trojans -- roughly playing Cover 2 as one man -- give him fewer opportunities for interceptions. They add that he was the critical figure for the nation's best pass defense in 2008, one that surrendered only six touchdown passes.

Then they roll tape of Mays blowing up anyone who comes near him. And, yes, it's impressive.

Yet Mays knows he isn't a perfect player. A few of those highlight reel hits could have been pick-sixes.

"I need to catch the ball in the air a little bit better, not always go for the hit but go for the ball. I think if I do that it can take my game to another level," he said. "That's what's holding me back. I don't think it's me getting to the ball."

(Read full post)

Big East nips Pac-10 for draft lead

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
10:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

[Note this is a corrected post... apologies for not factoring in the underrated Big East].

The Big East nipped the Pac-10 for the lead among conferences in the 2009 NFL draft.

The eight-team Big East supplied 27 total players in the draft, or 3.4 players per team. The Pac-10 supplied 32 selections (3.2 players per team). The 12-team SEC was third with 37 selections overall, or 3.1 per team. The 12-team ACC was third with 33 (2.8 per team).

Last year, the Pac-10's led with 3.4 per team vs. 2.92 per team for the SEC and ACC (2.75).

USC led the way with 11 players selected, including three in the first round, though many are shaking their heads of linebacker Rey Maualuga's tumble into the second round. Every draft-eligible Trojan who started last season was picked.

Oregon State was second with seven players selected and Oregon was third with six. Arizona State, with a pair of seventh-round selections, maintained a 45-year streak with at least one player drafted.

Not all the news was good: Stanford, UCLA and Washington each had no players selected.

Here's the complete list

Arizona

Eben Britton, OT, Jacksonville, second
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville, fourth

Arizona State

Troy Nolan, S, Houston, seventh
Paul Fanaika, OG, Philadelphia, seventh

California

Alex Mack, C, Cleveland, first
Zach Follett, LB, Detroit, seventh
Cameron Morrah, TE, seventh

Oregon

Patrick Chung, S, New England, second
Jairus Byrd, CB, Buffalo, second
Max Unger, C, Seattle, second
Fenuki Tupou, OT, Philadelphia, fifth
Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Pittsburgh, sixth
Nick Reed, DE, Seattle, seventh

Oregon State

Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo, second
Keenan Lewis, CB, Pittsburgh, third
Victor Butler, OLB, Dallas, fourth
Slade Norris, OLB, Oakland, fourth
Brandon Hughes, CB, San Diego, fifth
Al Afalava, S, Chicago, sixth
Sammie Stroughter, WR, Tampa Bay, seventh

Stanford

NONE

UCLA

NONE

USC

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets, first (No. 5)
Brian Cushing, OLB, Houston, first (No. 15)
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay, first (No. 26)
Rey Maualuga, LB, Cincinnati, second
Fili Moala, DT, Indianapolis, second
Patrick Turner, WR, Miami, third
Kaluka Maiava, LB, Cleveland, fourth
Kyle Moore, DE, Tampa Bay, fourth
David Buehler, PK, Dallas, fifth
Cary Harris, CB, Buffalo, sixth
Kevin Ellison, S, San Diego, sixth

Washington

NONE

Washington State

Brandon Gibson, WR, Philadelphia, sixth

UCLA's Carter ready for his close-up

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
5:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter likes being in the middle of the action. Not only because it allows him to make more plays. It also gives him an opportunity to provide his own special brand of play-by-play narration.

Yes, Carter likes to chat with opponents, and he appreciates guys who enjoy going back and forth with the ripostes unique to a football game.

 
  Cary Edmondson/US PRESSWIRE
  UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter backs up his talk on the field.
"I'm always talking -- offensive line, running backs, whoever is out there, I'm trying to have a conversation," he said. "After the play, during the play, before the play. I'm pretty active with my mouth. The referees have to tell us to be quiet at times. It's all fun and games. We talk trash during the game and give each other a hug after the game."

Sometimes the opponent doesn't cooperate. Carter said former Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart was a bit too quiet for his tastes. But he's big fans of Oregon State's Rodgers brothers, Jacquizz and James.

"We're were going at it a lot last year," Carter said. "We were talking back and forth. It was fun. Both of them. They're not big but they've got big hearts."

Carter's in-game libretto, however, didn't help get the word out on one of the West Coast's most underrated players.

Despite nagging injuries, Carter has started 32 games over the past three seasons at both inside and outside linebacker. He was a freshman All-American in 2006 and second-team All-Pac-10 last season, but he's busted noggins and ranted and raved mostly in anonymity.

Two reasons for that: 1. UCLA has mostly wallowed in mediocrity during his career; 2. That other LA program has sorta cornered the market on All-American linebackers.

Yet with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava shipping out from USC to the NFL, and California's Zack Follett joining them, it's wide open this spring as to who is the Pac-10's best linebacker.

And just because Carter likes to trash talk on the field doesn't mean he's boastful off it.

"I know I'm not the greatest player in the world but I respect the game, I study it and I think I play it fairly well," he said.

When asked about his favorite player, Ray Lewis, he twice emphasized he's not comparing himself to the future pro football Hall of Famer.

"He's my guy -- I love his intensity," Carter said. "He has a great passion and love for the game. He shows it when he plays. He's very emotional. I'm not comparing myself to him -- I'm not as good as him -- but when I play football I get pretty emotional. Sometimes before a game I'm almost crying because I love the game and enjoy doing it so much."

Carter hit the weight room hard after dropping to as low as 215 pounds after the 2008 season. He's at 235 pounds now and ready to take the lead on what may be one of the Pac-10's better defenses.

That leadership started this spring when Carter and other seniors explained that "Over the Wall," the Bruins tradition of bailing out of one spring practice a year, has been suspended.

Some griped when told of the new order.

"They said it was tradition," Carter said. "And I said it was a tradition that started when UCLA was winning. We were 4-8 last year. We don't deserve to do anything that they did in the past because in the past they were winning. We need to take advantage of all 15 [practices] to get better."

And if some folks rebel and jump the wall at Spaulding Field?

"We'll squash that real fast," Carter said. "If anybody tries to leave, we'll go in the locker room and get them and they'll finish practice with us."

It's just a hunch, but here's a guess Carter can be fairly convincing.

Carter and the rest of the seven returning starters on defense know their unit is in transition. Respected coordinator DeWayne Walker was hired as New Mexico State's head coach in the offseason, and Chuck Bullough was promoted from linebackers coach to fill the void.

Not too much will change in terms of scheme -- some reads and calls might be simplified -- but it was a significant loss for other reasons.

"It hurt me personally because [Walker] and I had a close relationship, almost father-son. We talked all the time, even if it wasn't about football," Carter said. "As a football player, I'm hurt, but as a family member, I'm also kind of happy. He's living his dream. I wish him the best."

It's particularly poignant when Carter speaks of a "father-son" relationship. His father, Reginald Carter, Sr., was shot and killed by his sister's boyfriend. Reggie Carter was only 2-years-old.

"I think about it a little bit from time to time, wondering what it would be like to have a father, for him to see me graduate from high school and play football in college and all those different things," Carter said. "But I have a lot of uncles who got me involved in sports. I also think, if my father was here, would I have been involved in sports and would have my uncles been so involved in my life that they got me to playing football in college?

Carter has another source of inspiration. Before games, he listens to Tupac Shakur's song, "Dear Momma." It reminds him of his mother, Selena Adway.

"My mother is pretty much my motivation before every game," he said. "She gets joy from watching me play and I like to do that for her."

If things fall into place this year, Carter will continue to chatter and makes plays and give his mother joy well into the future. Only he'll be suiting up on Sundays.

St. Patrick's Day: Greenest units in the Pac-10

March, 17, 2009
3/17/09
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?

Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.

Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.

California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.

Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.

Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.

Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.

UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.

USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.

Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.

Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.

Galippo the new man in the middle of USC's defense

February, 27, 2009
2/27/09
3:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Chris Galippo confesses that he might not consistently blow up opposing ball carriers with the single-minded zeal of Rey Maualuga, the beast of a linebacker he's expected to replace in the middle of the USC defense this spring, but he's quick to point out that the Trojans aren't exactly replacing prime rib with chopped liver.

"I think we both have a good knack for finding the football," he said. "We both can make a play anywhere on the field, whether it's dropping back into our Tampa-2 look in the middle third, or whether it's making plays in the backfield. We're both sideline-to-sideline players." 

Galippo, who ran a 4.72 40-yard dash this week at 240 pounds, seems completely at ease ascending to the spot that has produced NFL All-Pro Lofa Tatupu and Maualuga, a certain first-round draft pick this spring, over the past five seasons.

His pedigree is certainly the equal of Maualuga. Both were USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-Americans. Both were generally considered the premier inside linebacker in their recruiting classes.

Galippo, some might remember, made 11 tackles in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio and became the first defensive player to earn game MVP honors as the West held the East to just 57 yards.

He recorded 381 career tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks.

Want some more numbers? Against one team, he recorded 15 tackles, four sacks and blocked two field goal attempts while producing 143 all-purpose yards as a receiver, running back and tight end. 

So, no, chopped liver Galippo is not.

Of course, there is that pesky back.

Galippo immediately saw action as a true freshman in 2007, but his season ended with a herniated disk, which required surgery. Fortunately for him, he was allowed to reclaim a redshirt because he'd only played in the first three games.

But back injuries are tricky. His was still bothering Galippo well into the 2008 season, though he did end up with 12 tackles -- two for a loss -- and an interception.

Here's an early guess on what might become the affable Galippo's least favorite subject.

"I don't think it's an issue," he said. "I guess it is for the media. It's kind of the only thing that's hovering over my head right now. I know with the coaches that's their main concern -- can I stay healthy? I know that's a lot of people's concern. But I've never been healthier."

Galippo won't be the only new guy in the Trojans front seven when spring practices kick off on March 28. In fact, the only returning starter is nose tackle Christian Tupou.

Toss in Rocky Seto ascending to defensive coordinator after Nick Holt bolted for Washington, and this appears to be a spring of transition for the Trojans (though, notably, head coach Pete Carroll will continue to call the defensive plays).

On Galippo's linebacker flanks, juniors Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith will try to step in for All-American Brian Cushing and Rose Bowl MVP Kaluka Maiava.

"We've got a bunch of guys who are hungry and want to make a name for themselves," Galippo said. "It hasn't been like that at USC for a while. We've had a lot of superstars here over the last four or five years."

Then he adds, "I really don't see there being much of a drop off."

Really? Galippo is talking about replacing six players who all will be drafted, with Maualuga, Cushing, end Clay Matthews and tackle Fili Moala likely to go on the first day.

Lest you think, however, that Galippo is counting his sacks before they're made, know that he is completely aware of the USC system, which features constant competition for playing time.

Galippo's pedigree and potential don't matter any more. Now it's all about production.

"All it takes is a mistackle here or a missed assignment there, and someone else is getting subbed in," he said. "The coaches do a really good job of keeping the competition level high. We joke around sometimes that when you play ball at 'SC, you never really think you're a good football player until after the season. The coaches are so intense and are so good at holding such a high standard that you never really feel like you are producing enough until you look back after the season."

The good news for USC fans is Galippo seems perfectly comfortable that the standard he faces is Tatupu and Maualuga.

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