USC Pro Day Wrap-Up

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2009

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Mark Sanchez #6 of the USC Trojans drops back to pass against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the 95th Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi on January 1, 2009 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This week, I found myself down in Los Angeles, home of the USC Trojans for what is the wrap of the Pro Day season. Yes, I will be at Hawaii's Pro Day tomorrow, so technically it isn't a 'wrap' but USC's Pro Timing Day often marks the end of a long month or so of Pro Day workouts, plane flights and take-out food for NFL Scouts.

I am curious to see who comes to Hawaii's Pro Day tomorrow, but that's not what this is about.

I will say one of my favorite things about USC Pro Day is hanging around the Path to the Draft crew. Burmiester, Davis, and Mayock are three exceptionally nice guys and very gracious. Always great to talk football with them.

So I'm guessing there is no beating around the bush here—QB Mark Sanchez looked GOOD. He threw for an awfully long time and while there were occasional hiccups, his timing, accuracy, and strength were pretty good.

Plus the 80 or so throws he made—hey that's nothing to sneeze at. Against the wind at times too. The man came to work and didn't disappoint.

Stafford has a bigger arm, but I don't really think it's that big a deal. He threw scripted passes and then took requests from the audience (a.k.a. the Detroit Lions).

But don't read too much into that—it just means the Lions may still go offensive line (which is, in my opinion, the choice to make) and are doing their homework on Sanchez in case he is there at 20.

I can't say how likely that is. If Stafford drops to the Jags (a team very interested in Sanchez), then Sanchez drops a bit further and it isn't outside the realm of sanity that he could end up with the Lions.

I started this year out as hard a critic as anyone on the USC signal caller. As Pac-10 Insider for College Football Insider, I saw a ton of Sanchez and I still say another year and he could be the top overall pick in 2010.

But the more tape I watch and the more I see of him in things like today—I have to say that he should develop into a very good quarterback. The experience thing doesn't bother me all that much.

And if he drops to a team where he can sit for a year or two (for example, Jacksonville at eight - do you sense a theme?), he would avoid some potentially confidence crushing sacks.

Above all this is a guy who is a hard worker and that showed today. He's not Matt Leinart and he may not be a Carson Palmer. But he is still a very sharp athlete and could go far.

Some say his day was better than Stafford's, but I didn't see Stafford's with my own eyes. I did see Sanchez's though and I liked what I saw.

The USC linebacker corps—or the Triplets as I call them—were also on display today. Matthews, Maualuga, and Cushing all had good days.

Brian Cushing is probably the safe pick, though many worry about injuries with him. Still, to me he is the versatile guy who will contribute consistently early on in his career.

His ceiling is not as high as the other two, but that's no knock. Some scouts worry he isn't a three down linebacker, but I don't think that's totally true. He can play in pass coverage and I believe he can continue to add to his game at the Pro level. He could very easily develop into a perennial Pro Bowler.

Cushing looked explosive and quick and made a great catch where he had to extend his body to grab the ball and looked very good doing it.

While he was a bit stiff in the hips when turning, he looked very good overall and I walked away impressed with the New Jersey native. Cushing ran about a 4.70 in the one 40 I timed though I saw some scouts with 4.75 and 4.77.

Clay Matthews has had to fight his way through his college career. A walk-on, he eventually became an important part of the USC team, especially on Special Teams. Matthews is still a tad raw, but I think the skies the limit with him.

Matthews looked great in drills, showing good smoothness and fluidity as well as solid ball skills. He too caught the ball nicely in drills and overall had a great workout. He added a 4.57 in the 40 to his day and that's not too shabby. (I had him quicker but this is where the scouts had him.)

Of course, maybe the biggest story next to Sanchez was Rey Maualuga. Maualuga had to skip the position drills at the NFL Scouting Combine when he pulled his hamstring during his initial 40. He didn't run the 40 today until well after his position drills.

As he told me in an interview (which you can hear on Wednesday's Thundering Blurb Football Show), he held off on the 40 because he very much wanted people to see him run the positional workout. Having missed it at the Combine, he realized it was super critical.

While he looked a little stiff at times, I thought he had a very solid workout. He was clearly favoring his hamstring still, and I saw him limp off the field for a while, coming back later to run his 40.

That 40, by the way, clocked in at a 4.69, very respectable next to his 4.43 shuttle and 7.22 three-cone. There were some concerns that while rehabbing Maualuga might gain some weight, which is really all about questions people (mostly media) have about his attitude and work ethic.

Listen, just because the guy moves to the beat of his own drummer doesn't mean he can't march. Maualuga can flat out play. Now, in my opinion he's a guy who will need to adjust in the Pros—go less for the big play and more for the basics during his initial year or so in the league.

It will be a few years before teams turn him loose - which is similar to another standout USC defensive player from way back in the day by the name of Junior Seau.

Seau used to make huge plays at USC—and whiffed on them at times as well. I'm not saying El Rey is Seau, but he could be and if Seau could adjust, so could Maualuga. In the right system (maybe one involving Mike Singletary?) I think he could develop into a monster.

The dude is pretty intimidating, that's for sure.

A few other notes: Cornerback Cary Harris hurt his knee during his first 40 and missed the rest of the workout. Definitely a disappointing way to go, and not the first time I have seen it at a Pro Day. Just another reason people wonder if the 40 is worth the trouble.

Kevin Ellison looked good in drills and his 4.70 in the 40 was nice. He was much hotter earlier in draft season, but should move a little further up boards with today's workout.

Another less known, but very solid, linebacker prospect is Kaluka Maiava ran a 4.66 and a 4.7 by my watch and that was with a slight hamstring pull (see what I mean?). Maiava is sitting in the shadow of the Triplets right now, but could become a very good prospect once he gets into the league.

I think he could have received a lot more publicity and attention if he was elsewhere and not behind Matthews, Cushing and Maualuge. He's not quite their class, but he's nothing to sneeze at.

Wide receiver Patrick Turner looked good in his drills, and was in synch with Sanchez as well. He made some very nice catches along the sideline and ran very fast in the 40, getting times of 4.60 and 4.58 - the 4.58 a personal best.

Turner won't go early but is a guy who could put in a good show in camp once he's drafted on the second day.


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