March 9, 2009

Smith confident in returning LBs

There's little doubt Trojan fans and coaches are sad to see USC's entire starting linebacking corps from 2008 graduate.

Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava, USC's three leading tacklers last season, won't be back on the field for the Trojans, and frankly, Malcolm Smith is kind of stoked.

Smith, Michael Morgan and Chris Galippo have been waiting for that trio to get out of Troy for some time now.

"It's been a long time coming. We've all been working together for a long time. We're very excited to see those guys go - more than most people would think," Smith said. "There are a lot of questions about the unit that's coming up, and we have a lot of answers for them."

And every time Smith does anything this season, whether it's at the dinner table, in the weight room or on the practice field, the opportunity ahead of him is always on his mind.

"It's humongous. I think about it probably every 10 seconds. All day when I'm working out, it's all I think about," Smith said. "I want to make sure I look like a leader and make sure everything I do sets an example for everyone else."

Smith has had a pair of positive examples in Maiava and Keith Rivers, showing him exactly what it takes to be successful at weakside linebacker.

"Kaluka was such a good player behind the line of scrimmage, and he could always find his way to ball. Those are the types of things I'd like to emulate," Smith said. "I just want to add to things he and Keith have done."

Smith's already begun to see the effects of the offseason conditioning program - even if he doesn't necessarily feel them. Smith said he's weighing 226 pounds and ran a 4.4.5-second 40-yard dash when the team tested two weeks ago.

"The numbers show it. I guess it's working," he said. "I still feel like me every day."

From a technique standpoint, Smith has been working on some specific skills.

"I'm focusing more on using my hands and getting off blocks," he said. "I want to stay physical and stay competitive. Sometimes when you're on the second team, you don't think you matter as much you do. You still have put forth the effort all of the time."

Smith's very familiar with Morgan and Galippo, working with the pair plenty over the past two years.

"Mike is blazing fast. He's a quick guy. He uses his hands well, and he'll rush the passer well. He's a long, lanky guy. A lot of people will have trouble blocking him," Smith said. "Chris just finds the rock. He'll get to the ball. Everybody knows how good of a tackler he is."

It might be asking too much for the trio to replace the three future NFLers, but Smith doesn't think so.

"If we put the work in, it's definitely realistic. We've been doing the same work as those guys for a long time," Smith said. "I don't want to put too much on us, but I think we can help the team the same way.

"We want to prove them as much as we want to prove to everyone else how good we are. We want to show no drop off."

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