Pick: Everson Griffen
I might be fudging things a bit by picking Griffen, since he BEGAN last season as a starter. But he lost his job after the first three games and never got it back; in my book, that makes him "new." There's little chance he'll lose his job again. New DL coach Jethro Franklin seems to have found Griffen's "on" switch, and as long as it remains in that position, he's destined for double-digit sacks.
Could he possibly reach 24 -- the single-season Pac-10 record set by fellow Arizona prep legend Terrell Suggs? Griffen told me early last season that that was his goal, and he marveled at Suggs having "a motor that always goes." If Griffen produced half that total this season, you'd have to consider it a good year (especially considering he had 4.5 in 2008).
And if that does happen, the next question regarding Griffen will be whether he'll turn pro. This season will be his third at USC, and he has the size, speed and athleticism to thrive in the NFL -- assuming, that is, that he keeps that motor revving.
Everson Griffen has excelled under the coaching of Jethro Franklin. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
Scott Schrader, Senior Recruiting Editor, SCPlaybook.com
Pick: Chris Galippo
Chris came to USC as one of the most highly recruited linebackers in the country from the 2007 class. He was the MVP of the Army All-American Game and everyone who watched that game was impressed with his performance.
When he got to USC, he realized quickly how beneficial Coach Carlisle was in his development as a player/athlete. He also said he was able to be a rover type defensive player at Servite, but in the USC defense, he had to be disciplined and understand his duties at middle linebacker.
Chris has spent much time since he arrived at SC mending back problems, but this spring, we saw what Galippo can add to to the Trojan defense. I believe he will be one of the biggest impact players this season and I truly believe there will be little drop off, if any, at the middle linebacker position with Galippo taking over for Rey Maualuga this season.
Chris covers sideline to sideline as well as any linebacker in the country and his ability to shed blockers and not over pursue opposing running backs is a plus for him. And his pass protection skills are better than Rey's. I expect a few more interceptions from the 2009 linebackers than we've seen the past few years. Overall, I expect the USC linebacker's to be extremely impressive in 2009.
Chris Galippo is finally healthy and ready to take over for Rey Maualuga. (Paul Pinner Photo)
Kevin Carden, Editorial Director, SCPlaybook.com
Pick: Malcolm Smith
One player that definitely looks ready to have a breakout season in 2009 is outside linebacker Malcolm Smith. After spending his first two years as a special teams player and backup linebacker, the junior from Taft High School really stepped up and took hold of the starting weak-side linebacker spot with a strong performance this spring.
It's well known that Pete Carroll stresses the importance of causing turnovers, and Smith showed that he has a nose for the ball, coming up with several big turnovers during spring practice. The athletic linebacker sparked the defense during the Trojans' first scrimmage when he scooped up a fumble and returned it for a 70-yard touchdown, and never looked back, making play after play.
With Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga, Kaluka Maiava and Clay Matthews all departing for the NFL, Smith will be a key member of the 2009 defense and has all the tools to be next special USC linebacker.
Malcolm Smith could be the next big playmaker at linebacker for USC. (Paul Pinner Photo)
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