The white athletic tape wrapping Porter Gustin's wrists and fingers seems to always be splattered with droplets of blood when he comes off the practice field.
It's the typical spoils of a trench warrior, and Gustin definitely fits the billing of that label physically, except Gustin looks like a different type of warrior this year. Last year, he entered fall camp looking like Russian prizefighter Ivan Drago from Rocky IV with a clean-shaven face and short, spiky blond hair. Now, Gustin looks like a burly lumberjack that you wouldn't want to cross at the local bar. He has let his hair grow out and is rocking a baby neck beard that Sam Baker's beard would pat on the head and say 'Aww...he's just a little guy.' Regardless, it's a much different look.
So is the USC defense.
Under Clancy Pendergast, the Trojans are blitzing from every spot on the field rather than rushing the same four players on every passing situation. The varied attack should enable Gustin to get some extra opportunities to make an impact in the backfield.
"It's helping a lot," Gustin said. "I'm just not coming off the edge every single time now, so they don't know what I'm doing. I might be going 'A' gap. I might be going 'B' gap. I might be coming off the edge, running games. It's just confusing the offense a little bit more."
Working with running backs-turned-linebackers coach Johnny Nansen and getting some occasional work with defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze, Gustin feels his pass rush moves are improving with the implementation of new drills. After playing middle linebacker in high school, Gustin is beginning to feel comfortable and more at home coming off the edge as an outside linebacker/standup defensive end in the “Predator” position.
For Gustin, pass rushing is becoming second nature rather than something he only did when a blitz was called in high school. He has got repetition after repetition focusing on technique and drill work.
“Pass rushing [is] just coming more natural. Just having more moves, more tools when I’m rushing the quarterback,” Gustin said. “We’re doing a lot of pass rush stuff that we haven’t done in the past and I think it’s helped my game a lot.”
Gustin is one of those players that wants to be in the weight room 24/7. When he can’t be lifting to get stronger, he wants to be working on his craft to get better as a player. But one of the issues he had last year is that he didn’t have a great understanding of the activities he should be doing to help him as a rush end, but now that new drills have been introduced to him, he’s already got plans for after the spring.
“I’m going to continue to do it throughout the summer. I have a lot more of an understanding of what drills I need to do. It’s going to help me a ton in the summer just being able to do that on my own.”
In the video interview above, watch Porter Gustin talk about his comfortability in Clancy Pendergast's new defensive scheme and how he is working to improve his pass rushing skills with new drills.
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