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News » USC quartet highlights deep crop of linebackers

USC quartet highlights deep crop of linebackers

USC quartet highlights deep crop of linebackers
A little over a year ago, Titans linebackers coach David McGinnis was sitting on the metal bleachers of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, leaning into an Alabama wind, when the question was tossed his way as a Senior Bowl practice unfolded in front of him.

So, exactly what should a team do if it needed an every-down, rush-the-passer, beat-down-the-run kind of linebacker in the 2008 draft.

"Better hurry,'' McGinnis said. "Really hurry.'

So the Bengals did, grabbing Keith Rivers with the ninth pick of the '08 draft, and the Patriots did, following with Jerod Mayo with the 10th pick of the draft.

That was it in the first round, the shallow pool was already empty before the draft was two hours old. No other linebacker went until Curtis Lofton at 37 to the Falcons and Jordon Dizon 45th to the Lions.

Well, flip 12 calendar pages and welcome to the new day this time around.

Because one defense -- USC's -- may have three linebackers, as in 1-2-3, go in the first round alone in Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing, along with a fourth (Kaluka Maiva) who will also be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds. Ohio State has two potential first-day picks at the position in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.

These are all guys who may even find it easier in some ways to get on the field for defenses picking that high in the first round than it was in college.

Draft-day candidates

Players like Pitt's Scott McKillop, who had back-to-back 100-tackle seasons for the Panthers and was the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year in '08. He has had Dave Wannstedt, he of a bulky NFL resume, singing McKillop's praises to any and all scouts who passed through the Panthers' complex this past fall.

"Of course, you want to see how you match up with those guys, you look at the (USC) linebackers and the Ohio State linebackers and I think I can compete with them,'' McKillop said. "You want to show that, I think we will all think that way in this draft, there are a lot of linebackers who will probably be compared with each other.''

There are those like South Florida's Tyrone McKenzie, and Southern Mississippi's Gerald McRath, who had three 100-tackles seasons, or Cal-Berkeley's Zack Follett, who made 51 career tackles for losses and forced 13 fumbles over the last four seasons.

It was Follett who led the Pac 10, in tackles for losses and forced fumbles this past season, one of three former Cal linebackers at this year's combine, and who might as well be wearing stealth technology for all of the attention he's received. In '08 they may have had bigger letters on the marquee and they certainly wouldn't have had to kill as much time on draft weekend waiting for their names to be called.

"S.C. kind of dwarfs us a little, you know?'' Follett said. "We're almost sleepers coming out.''

"I think we all know what it's about at this point,'' Laurinaitis said. "...There's guys that have gotten picked in the 20s that have become Pro Bowlers and are still playing, and there's guys that get picked in the first five, and you're like, 'Where did they go?' That just shows that no matter what you do in college, you can't get satisfied. I think I have that attitude, where I'm never going to be satisfied with how I'm playing. ... I think a lot of people in this group feel that way and that's why there are so many of us this time around.''

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 8, 2009

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D.J. Hackett Name: D.J. Hackett
Position: WR
Age: 27
Experience: 5 years
College: Colorado
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