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USC sends nine to Senior Bowl


Leading the North team at the Senior Bowl, USC quarterback John David Booty has the benefit of seeing many familiar faces on his team.

MOBILE, Ala. – When the Senior Bowl kicked off Monday, scouts congregated in meeting rooms to discuss who had not shown up for the annual pre-draft game that draws the nation's top senior NFL prospects.

Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan took their names off the roster less than a week before workouts began in Mobile.

Both were considered headline players who still had a lot to prove, namely that they had enough poise in the pocket to lead high-powered, pro offenses. Talent evaluators were disappointed, to say the least, that the two did not capitalize on their opportunities to stand out as the premier quarterbacks in this year's game.

Brohm and Ryan, however, became distant memories when more than 100 seniors took part in the national scouting weigh-in before the first practice. Then, the story became the record number of players coming from the University of Southern California.

{QUOTE}The Men of Troy claimed nine participants in the Senior Bowl this year, the most of any school. Kentucky and LSU sent the second-most players with four each.

Several SoCal products also could end up being first-round picks, including defensive tackle Sederick Ellis, offensive tackle Sam Baker, tight end Fred Davis, linebacker Keith Rivers and defensive end Lawrence Jackson.

Ellis (6-1, 307) is considered to be one of the best interior linemen going into the draft.

He has been touted for being extremely disruptive against the run and displaying great recognition skills and bursts of speed with his first step. Ellis also has proven that he can pressure the quarterback and bat down passes. During one-on-one drills Monday, he used his arms to maintain separation from offensive tackles and disengage from blocks.

The main question mark surrounding Ellis is whether he can fit into two-gap schemes, but this week the defensive lineman is determined to prove that he has the motor to get it done.

"I want to show that my abilities will stand with the players of the caliber that are here playing at the Senior Bowl and that I can play with any level of player," Ellis said. "I had a great year and I'm just hoping to continue that."

At 6-5, 314 pounds, Baker certainly stood out during the weigh-in, where his long arms and big hands were duly noted. On the field, Baker's feet have been his best asset. He has shown quickness as a run blocker, leverage against the rush and sound techniques in every facet of the game.

Baker said he recently had his first sit-down interview with an NFL team and he is looking forward to getting more feedback from pro coaches.

"It's important to show them that you are coachable and that you can learn new schemes and that you can compete with the best players in the nation," Baker said.

Rivers (6-3, 237), who displayed his athleticism as a sideline-to-sideline run defender in USC's rout over Illinois in the Rose Bowl, has impressed with his ability read and react. Rivers, a Florida native, is known for forcing turnovers and delivering big hits, but several teams think that Rivers must improve his pass rush.

His teammate, Davis (6-4, 247), who averaged 14.2 yards per catch and led the Trojans in receiving yards with 881 last year, has playmaking ability written all over him. The problem with this former wide receiver has been his blocking. Teams want to make sure that Davis can be a functional enough blocker to play tight end in the NFL.

Quarterback John David Booty, offensive lineman Drew Radovich and running back Chauncey Washington round out the Trojan crew.

Booty, who finished the year with 2,361 passing yards, said the week offered him a chance to prove to scouts that he can connect on tough passes while under high-level pressure.

"It's huge to be able to go out and show what you are capable of doing," Booty said. "I don't think they are so much looking at the team periods and scrimmages and the game. It's really the one-on-ones and the individual stuff you are doing with your position coaches that they are really focusing on.

"I think there have been questions at times if I can make all the big-time throws on the field, and I think I can. And that's what I'm going to go out and show this week."

For Washington, the focus will be showing teams that he can be a physical back who makes catches.

"There are doubts that I can catch the ball, so I'm going to go out there and prove that I can do that," Washington said

"Running the ball is natural to me, so they are looking for me to catch the ball and get upfield."

Of course, all of the players were thrilled to play for their former coach, Lane Kiffin, who left USC to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin and his staff are coaching the Senior Bowl's North team.

"It's great to have familiar faces around, especially when I get in the huddle – you know, to have a couple of guys that I'm used to seeing and really understand me and what I'm all about really helps to get the other guys involved," Booty said. "I guess it was luck of the draw that we got him as our coach, but it's just one more familiar face that we're used to seeing around. It's really been great to talk to him. So far, it's really been a lot of fun."

Noteworthy: Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden attended the North's practice on Monday. Bucs defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, who is father to Lane, recently extended his contract, giving him the longest tenure for an NFL defensive coordinator.

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