Cardinals Consider First-Round LB Candidate

You can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4 defense. That cliché rings especially true in Cardinals camp after the defections of Calvin Pace and Darryl Blackstock. Arizona will address the position in the draft, possibly as early as round one. Cardinalinsider.com examines a leading candidate to fill the void in the middle of Arizona's defense.

Keith Rivers (6'3", 235 pounds) anchored one of college football's stingiest defenses at USC. Having played for a program with a tradition of excellence, this All-American honoree leaves much behind as he takes his game to the next level.

"Once you're a Trojan, you're a Trojan for life," he said.

In his college career, Rivers tallied 139 solo tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks. He also had two interceptions, five forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.

Well versed in many positions, Rivers played all three linebacker spots at USC, as well as safety and defensive end in certain packages.

"The coaches have done a great job moving me around. I think it shows a little versatility, since I've played all three positions. I've enjoyed everyday," he said.

Playing for coach Pete Carroll was a welcomed learning experience for Rivers. Carroll, who was a head coach with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, runs pro-style schemes at USC, leaving his players well prepared for life in the NFL.

"He instilled a competition in us all," Rivers said. "He taught us how to compete everyday, not to pick and choose our downs but to play our hardest on every down."

Rivers is aggressive and makes plays from sideline-to-sideline. With a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, he has the burst to close on ball-carriers. He is also an adept pass rusher and will chase plays until the whistle is blown.

Rivers' experience at USC has granted him an experienced savvy that allows him to diagnose offenses and anticipate plays. He has the agility, balance and body control to be a special player; all he has left to prove is his mean streak.

"There are some knocks on me as far as being tough in a phone booth," Rivers said. "I've been working on being physical and showing my mean streak."

Rivers is a disciplined and motivated player. He has championship experience and a winning attitude, which could help a Cardinals team that has not qualified for the playoffs in a decade.

Rivers' college career was hampered by ankle and knee injuries, which could be a concern for the Cardinals. However, he is healthy now and should earn a starting job as a rookie. His rare brand of raw talent will be difficult to pass up at No. 16.

"I want to show I'm a high character guy. I have a great understanding of my defense and I'll be able to pick up any defense that I'll be running in the future," he said.

Six weeks from now, that defense could be Arizona's.


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