Linebacker review

When each of the three linebackers at USC are mentioned on All-American and Bednarik Award watch lists, you know the collection of talent must be pretty special. The linebackers at Southern Cal are just that, and may be the deepest group in a talent rich roster top to bottom. The Trojans will wear a familiar title as national championship favorites, thanks in large part to this group.

Keith Rivers - Sr. - Rivers came into USC from the state Florida as one of, if not the top linebacker in nation for his class. Rivers, who spent much of his sophomore year batting a nagging hamstring injury, really came to life in his junior campaign, finishing the year with a team leading 85 tackles. The former five-star recruit has really taken the #55 and continued its rich tradition. Rivers had a very solid spring, staying on pace to become a high draft pick in next year's NFL draft.

Rey Maualuga - Jr. - Just like Rivers, Maualuga came into USC as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country, and he has not disappointed during his tenure at SC. Maualuga, who recently clocked a 4.55 40 yard dash at over 250 lbs., took over starting duties from Oscar Lua as a sophomore, and has shown flashes of brilliance in his time as a starter. Maualuga was flying all over the field this spring, racking up seven tackles during the Trojan Huddle. Maualuga, who is cemented in nearly every sports publication as a "player to watch," admittedly spent the entirety of the spring working on the little things. If Maualuga can fix the little problems, there is no doubting he will be mentioned with the best linebackers nationally. Maualuga also finished second in tackles on the team, right behind Rivers.

Brian Cushing - Jr. - Cushing was last year's Rose Bowl Co-MVP with the recently departed wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett. Cushing, who spent the entirety of his sophomore campaign playing as a stand-up end in the 3-4 scheme, will make his return to his natural SAM linebacker spot next year. Cushing finished last year 6th on the team in tackles, and will look to improve that mark, possibly seeing the linebackers finish 1-2-3 in tackles. Cushing spent most of the spring session out due to a hamstring injury, but is on pace to return in the summer.

Kaluka Maiava - Jr. - Maiava, a one-time UCLA commitment, has done everything you could ask for in a reserve and some. Maiava, who earned Co-Special Teams Player of the Year, has been a very important key to the success of this Trojans team. Maiava will continue to push Rivers at the top, but will likely have to wait another year before he sees his name mentioned as number one on the depth chart. Maiava had his usual eventful spring, spending most of his time around the ball. Maiava should increase the 35 tackle mark that he accumulated last year, and continue to be a key member of the special teams.

Clay Matthews - Jr. - Matthews, who began his Trojan career as a walk-on, provided valuable depth to the SAM linebacker spot behind recently drafted Dallas Sartz. Matthews finished the year as Co-Special Teams Player of the Year with Maiava, finishing the season with 15 tackles in reserve duty. Matthews recently clocked a 4.56 in the 40 yard dash during testing, and will likely see an increase in playing time come season. The Agoura High graduate had another very solid spring campaign, taking over full time duty at the SAM spot with starter Brian Cushing out.

Luthur Brown - Jr. - Luthur Brown definitely passes the eye ball test, and he has made some big strides this spring behind Rey Maualuga. Brown, who spent most of his first two years at SC injured, will play backup duty to Maualuga and newly added T-Will in the middle, likely seeing the field plenty with the way this unit is coming to together. Brown, who recently clocked a 4.7 in the 40 yard dash, is known as a big time hitter. He will also see an increased role this fall with Oscar Lua out of the picture.

Thomas Williams - Sr. - Williams is definitely the loudest player on the defense, taking any advantage he can to talk a little trash. Williams has played every position in the line backing corps., and continued his musical chairs between the three spots this spring. Williams found himself on the end of spring depth chart in the unfamiliar role of backing up Rey Maualuga at the Mike spot. Williams spent much of last year lending a hand at a depleted fullback spot, and may be asked to once again render his services depending on how the position shakes out.

Michael Morgan - Fr. - Morgan came into to SC at a whopping 185 lbs. on a good day, earning himself the moniker "Slim." Morgan, who now weighs over 205 lbs., will continue his work with Coach Carlisle in hopes of earning more playing time. If Morgan can maintain his speed with the added weight, it will be very hard to keep him off the field, whether at linebacker of end. Morgan sat out the spring due to injuries, but has provided the coaches with a very intriguing option as a pass rushing specialist at defensive end, much like Keith Rivers during his freshman year.

Joshua Tatum - Fr. - One of the more pleasant surprises this spring was the increased participation by highly touted freshman linebacker Joshua Tatum. The former Mclymonds standout did not participate in all aspects of spring, but enough to let us know that he's getting there. Tatum, who missed just about his final two seasons in high school, will have to work hard, seeing as he is sitting behind Rivers and Maiava at a pretty stacked Will linebacker spot. Tatum, hoping to stay healthy, will provide a valuable hand in the special teams unit for SC next year.

Nick Garratt - So. - Garratt saw a dramatic increase in action during the spring with injuries to Cushing, Matthews, and Morgan. Garratt will continue to provide depth at the SAM spot heading into the fall. Garratt was pretty active out there this spring, continually improving his game.

If there is a better group of a linebackers in the nation, I've yet to see them. This current group of linebackers at SC is scary good, and I don't see them letting down any of the mile long expectations placed upon them by seemingly everyone. The depth from top to bottom is incredible, and that is not even mentioning the arrivals of Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith, and Jordan Campbell. Watch out college world.

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