Mobile, Ala. – Forgive Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio if he spends a little extra time with three linebackers on the South team this week at the Senior Bowl. Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga all arrived in Mobile after standout careers at Del Rio's alma mater, Southern California.
Del Rio was a four-year starter for the Trojans from 1981-84 where he earned All-America honors along with fellow linebacker and former NFL player Duane Bickett. Two linebackers on the same college team with NFL careers is one thing, but Del Rio admits that seeing three from the same defense is pretty impressive.
"We had two but I don't know if I've ever seen three come out that are as heralded as this group," Del Rio said. "There have been some good linebackers there over the years."
Maualuga, 6-1-254, was a first-team Associated Press All-America and won the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player. Cushing, 6-3, 243, ranked second on the Trojans in tackles in 2008 and is considered a top prospect in the draft.
Matthews, 6-3, 246, started his career as a walk-on before playing an important role on one of the nation's top defenses. Matthews knows all about the spotlight considering his father, Clay, played 19 NFL seasons at linebacker and made four Pro Bowls. Clay's uncle, Bruce Matthews, was a 14-time Pro Bowl selection as an offensive lineman and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
"It's a good group. They are really talented," Del Rio said. "You can see why they played such great defense. It's clear that they have been well coached. All three of them have worked hard at conditioning and have been in the weight room. You can see it in their bodies. They have worked at it. All three of them are unique in their own ways. They are good football players. They are here competing and that's what I like about it. I know that's part of the program out there at Southern Cal. That is what Pete (Carroll) believes in and it's something I believe in."
Maualuga agrees with Del Rio. Competition is what drives the group.
"We all made each other who we are, by competing," Maualuga told the Mobile Press-Register. "Everybody wants to be better than the other person. At the end of the day when it's all said and done, we're friends, but on the field we're all trying to make the best of the opportunity and compete against each other."
DEL RIO TALKS SUPER BOWL
Del Rio arrived in Mobile on Sunday afternoon and was able to see parts of the AFC and NFC Championship Games. Del Rio acknowledged his main priority right now is "to have fun down here working with the South team," but said the Super Bowl participants are evidence of the type of parity in the NFL.
"A year ago we were beating Pittsburgh so we know how soon it was that we were right in that mix," Del Rio said. "You watch Arizona go from a 9-7 year and get hot in the playoffs. I think every team out there that can find a way into the playoffs has a shot. That has been proven the last few years. New York (Giants) came out of the wildcard round and they win a world championship. What you are seeing in the NFL is that there is a fine line between the very best and the teams that aren't doing very well. We are going to work hard to get back in that mix."
BETTER HAVE A JACKET
The South team went through second day of practice on Tuesday in preparation for Saturday's Senior Bowl. The conditions were much different than Monday with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees and much cooler with the wind chill. The weather didn't stop coaches and scouts from lining the fence around the field watching the first workout in pads. The majority of coaches and scouts will leave Mobile on Thursday morning.
NFL NETWORK IS YOUR PLACE TO WATCH
NFL Network is broadcasting the practices each day from Ladd-Peebles Stadium starting at 10:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Del Rio was wearing a microphone for the network during Tuesday's practice and spent time on the set with Paul Burmeister, Mike Mayock and Charles Davis following practice. The Senior Bowl kicks off at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday evening.
DID YOU KNOW
The South roster includes 21 players from the SEC: Alabama (4), Ole Miss (4), LSU (3), Tennessee (3), Georgia (2), Mississippi State (1), Florida (1), Auburn (1), Arkansas (1), South Carolina (1). Offensive lineman Jason Watkins is representing Florida while wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and defensive lineman Corvey Irvin played at Georgia.
FLORIDA STATE GETS REPRESENTATION
Wide receiver Greg Carr was added to the South team roster on Tuesday night. Carr kept a streak alive for Florida State in the Senior Bowl as the Seminoles have had representation in every game since 1991. Carr, 6-6, recorded 148 receptions for 2,574 yards and 29 touchdowns in four seasons.
MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF
Del Rio has done some "TV scouting" on a lot of the players at this week's Senior Bowl, but he's also getting his first look at other players. While the Senior Bowl is loaded with players from nationally-ranked programs and schools that are seen every week on television, there are also players getting their first in-depth look from NFL coaches and scouts. The South team has players from Jackson State, Liberty, Tulane, Richmond and San Jose State just to name a few.
"Every year when you come down here someone shows up and flashes this week and then the buzz starts," Del Rio said. "It really represents a great opportunity for seniors coming out to come down here in particular from programs where they are not on national television, they're not seen across the country on a regular basis, and they come down here and compete with guys that are and you see they belong. You see examples of that every year. There are some players out here this week that fall into that category."
SHOWING YOUR VERSATILITY
Jaguars offensive line coach Andy Heck has nine players at his disposal this week and Del Rio said the staff is trying to move guys along the line to help their value in the draft.
"We are going to work the group we have," Del Rio said. "You get eight or nine guys that you are going to get to work for the week so you do the best you can with making sure you have versatility to play the game. I do think it is an advantage for a guy to play guard and center. If you're pigeon-holed as only a center and if your ability dictates you can only play center, then it limits your value a little bit. Certainly if you're not a starter playing at that position it makes it difficult to get up and be active when you can play only one position. When you start talking about getting down to 45-man rosters for game day, it's difficult to carry a center-only guy as a backup. Having that versatility and being able to play guard, center and being able play tackle, having that ability to swing at different positions is something we covet."