January 24, 2009

Plenty to prove at Senior Bowl

Another year and another senior class is on the verge of showcasing their talent at the Senior Bowl.

When the game takes place at 4 p.m. Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., six different Trojans will have a shot to stand out among college football's top upperclassmen in front of personnel from each of the 32 NFL Franchises.

In addition to pro days and the NFL Scouting Combine, prospects have the chance to show NFL staffs how the prepare and how they work on the practice field.

Throughout the week, reports have come out of Mobile detailing the ups-and-downs of the 100-plus seniors on the North and South rosters.

Here's a look at what the six USC players in the game have a chance to prove and what is at stake for each of them leading up to the NFL Draft.

Rey Maualuga

One of the most-decorated players in college football this past season, Maualuga didn't do himself any favors in his first practice of the week. Reports from Mobile said Maualuga looked rusty and admitted to being a little nervous.

This isn't too big of a shock because Maualuga wasn't playing to his potential early in his senior season because he was trying to do too much on the field.

Saturday, it'll be important to show scouts and GMs that Maualuga won't let his emotions get the best of him and that he can play within a system.

Regardless of what happens, there's virtually no way he'll drop out of the first round.

Brian Cushing

Cushing has impressed NFL people with his ability to play outside or inside linebacker. He showed up to the game in great shape, no surprise, and has shown the ability to fly to the ball.

He had one of the biggest hits of the week. He's played in Maualuga's shadow somewhat, but Saturday will be a chance for Cushing to show his skills are unique.

He's more versatile than Maualuga, and now that he's healthy, he's almost every bit as intimidating.

Cushing has been projected as a late first-round pick, but his stock seems to be rising.

Clay Matthews

The most improbable Trojan on the South roster, Matthews has come a long way since arriving at USC as a skinny walk-on.

Now, a physically mature player, Matthews has dazzled scouts with his pass-rushing ability. He's been playing linebacker in Mobile, the position he'd almost certainly have to play at the next level.

Matthews can get to the quarterback, but he won't be allowed to blitz in the game's format. Matthews will have to prove he's more than a specialist, covering receivers and working well against the run.

Again, his stock is on the rise, and Matthews appears to be a lock as a first-day selection.

Fili Moala

The Sporting News called Moala the strongest player at the game after manhandling an offensive lineman during a pass-rush drill.

It's always difficult for interior lineman to shine, but an all-star game format might be best for a guy like Moala. Without linebackers blitzing and an offensive line fully comfortable with one another, Moala could catch some eyes by getting in the backfield and making plays.

Once thought of as a first-round talent, Moala can begin his journey back up draft boards with a strong showing.

Kyle Moore

Like Moala, Moore was one of the more unheralded members of USC's staunch defense with things to prove in Mobile.

Moore's flashed signs of versatility this week as a pass-rusher, looking very strong in one-on-one drills. He'll have the opportunity to get to the quarterback Saturday and make some plays.

If Moore plays to his potential, he should lock in his position as a first-day selection, perhaps to a team with a 3-4 scheme.

Patrick Turner

Turner's had to most up-and-down week of any Trojan in Alabama. At times, he's struggled to catch the ball, but he's also made some highlight-reel grabs.

Turner isn't fast enough to wow anyone with his speed, so it's imperative that he establishes himself as a sure-handed threat that gets open because of his strong route running and physicality.

Turner really asserted himself this past year in the red zone, and if he's going to be coveted by a team in need of a tall receiver, he'll need to prove he can hang onto the ball by the end zone.


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