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Running to the ball, y'all

Speed will get them to where they want to go, USC's linebackers say, and they're planning to get there in a hurry this year

Quinton Powell is finishing up his USC career. Osa Masina is pretty much just getting started.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Powell, a senior, may be an undersized inside linebacker now, moving in from the outside, but if his position is new, his defensive coordinator and position coach -- Clancy Pendergast - is not.

For Masina, at 6-4 and 240, the sophomore has classic size and a home now on the inside -- also at the WILL linebacker spot after some time at defensive end in the spring.

But if one is a veteran, the other something of a newbie still, one built like a safety, the other not safety-sized at all, one with his old coach back, the other with a newcomer to the new guy, there is one thing the fourth-year man from Deltona, Fla. and his second-year teammate from Brighton, Utah, have very much in common -- at least in this defense this season

They both can run -- and run to the football. But unlike last season, they're actually going to get to do just that -- play after play after play.

"Oh my goodness," Quinton says when asked if there's a difference in this defense. "Last year, they talked about playing fast but that's not what we did at practice. This year, they do it. And show us how."

Every practice, every play, says Quinton, whose lack of size kept him off the field the last two seasons in USC's much more stand-around defense. Now the philosophy is to "play on the other side of the line of scrimmage," Clancy says. And they'll be able to hide the playmaking Powell behind the big guys before he takes off toward the football.

"We have smaller dudes who can run to the ball, even our defensive linemen," Quinton says. "You see us out there in the summer. We have 11 guys running to the ball every play."

But that's not all they're doing. "I'm not talking bad about anybody last year but this year we've been working on getting all the little things right. And we have different kinds of athletes. We have guys like Adoree' [Jackson] who's a freak. But other guys like me, I'm finally getting coached."

Now the other 10 guys are getting to play like he always wanted to play, says Quinton, who had mostly gotten his chance on special teams the last two years after starting out in the rotation as an outside linebacker with 20 tackles while playing in all 14 games as a freshman under Clancy.

"You can't just talk it," Quinton says of the "play fast" mantra, "You have to do it. If you're not doing it every day, if you're not used to doing it, you won't be able to do it in games."

Clancy's return from a stint as linebackers coach at the 49'ers helps there, Quinton says, with those little things "like using your hands, your feet, shedding blockers, rushing the passer."

He likes it the way Clancy has adjusted his "professional" approach for college guys. "He'll explain it to the younger guys in ways they understand," Quinton says..

The only thing that's slowing him down right now, Quinton says, has been a hyperextended big toe that he caught up on a piece of equipment in a conditioning drill but he's almost fully back.

But it's not like they're all undersized on defense. Sophomore Cameron Smith, on his return, gives USC a 250-pound freshman All-American middle lnebacker lining up next to the WILL guys as does another sophomore, 268-pound Porter Gustin at Predator.

But there's also size at his position, as well, with Masina, up 10 pounds from the 230 he's listed at in the media guide, and a former hurdler in high school. It's all different, this season, Osa says.

"It just feels a lot better running to the ball," he says of his return to the WILL spot where he lined up last season. Although it's not the same as last season when he recorded 25 tackles in 12 games plus a scoop and score fumble recovery TD in the opener against Arkansas State.

His specialty, despite his straight ahead hurdling skills, "has always been running sideline to sideline," Osa says. Now he's getting to do that.

And doing it in the summer. "We didn't do this much 11 on 11 last season," he says of the player run practices. "We're definitely blitzing a lot more. I knew we had it in us. We really believe in Coach P."

As the inside linebacker coach [Johnny Nansen is responsible for the outside linebackers], Clancy "is teaching me a ton of new things like getting off blocks, reading the pass, every day it's something else."

While Osa doesn't talk much, he does talk about how he "can't wait for fall camp," where the verbal back and forth of this past Friday will continue in pads, something the offensive guys say they're very much looking forward to.

"That's all fun and games," Osa says. "Trash talking is great."

There's one other thing. He'll often get to line up next to his fellow Utah native Gustin and that makes him smile. "We have chemistry," he says.

It's something this entire USC defense is hoping for -- chemistry in a fast-reacting formula.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at

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