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Taylor Mays at Linebacker in the NFL


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He's a-Mays-ing: USC safety wows coaches in Pac-10

By Patrick Finley

Arizona Daily Star

LOS ANGELES — Taylor Mays didn't have a single interception last year. On a USC team filled with elite football players, he doesn't return kicks or punts.

He's not Charles Woodson, the flashy Michigan cornerback who in 1997 became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.

Yet Mays might be the best bet to follow in Woodson's footsteps at the Heisman presentation ceremony.

"I want to get to New York," Mays said Thursday, smiling. "But I've got to get some interceptions first."

He might be right. A few picks would add a dose of the obvious to football fans obsessed with highlights.

But one look at Mays, a two-time first-team All-American, tells you what you need to know.

"He's a freak of nature," said Steve Sarkisian, Washington's first-year coach and former USC assistant. "Look at him."

Interceptions are beside the point.

At 6 feet 3 inches and 235 pounds, the senior intimidates as much as Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Troy Polamalu or any in the line of the Trojans' greatest safeties.

The son of former NFL player Stafford Mays can run a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds. His 41-inch vertical leap is half a foot higher than former UA basketball player Jordan Hill. He bench presses 425 pounds.

"He's all that you could ever ask for physically," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's got size. He's got speed. He's got flexibility. He's got instincts. He's got intelligence. And he loves to play the game, and it shows. It exudes around him."

Here's how much: Mays said Thursday that he is so focused on football this season that he won't go to parties, lest his teammates see him unfocused.

Mays didn't eschew the NFL draft this spring so he could end up "walking through campus and having all the girls," he said.

"I've got no problem sitting in my room and looking at the wall," he said.

The singular focus pays respect to the Trojans greats at the position.

"There's a tradition about it, and Taylor embraced that from the start," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He came in really willing to understand what he was getting into, to become part of that lineage."

On some level, he has surpassed Lott, probably the greatest safety in the history of football.

"I don't think — and I think Ronnie would be the first to tell you, and I don't want to ever cross Ronnie — that there hasn't been a guy more physically fit, faster, stronger, more committed than what Taylor is," Carroll said. "Those guys all get the chance to live through his performance, and he carries that responsibility with him."

The Trojans' history and exposure, of course, could contribute to Mays' hype.

"He's going to get a lot of preseason publicity, not only for his exploits, but he's been on that stage for a while, given what SC's accomplished," Neuheisel said. "But who knows? Woodson did it."

In an ideal world, that would be the end of the conversation. After three years as one of the game's best defensive players, Mays would project as the same in the NFL.

Truth is, some pro scouts don't know if he's a safety, or if he needs to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

"They're looking for specific things in specific areas," Sarkisian said. "It's almost like you have to fit inside a box — 'OK, he can play at this spot. Well, he doesn't fit that spot, he has to play in this spot.'

"I think the challenge for Taylor is to possibly show he can fit in that box, because he's out of the box."

Neuheisel said "there are people who wonder about his ability in open space," but then smiled.

"I'd take a flier on him," he said, cheekily stating the obvious.

The NFL will find a place for Mays in the first round, especially if he posts another stellar season. Mays could graduate with three first-team All-America honors, and maybe a national championship.

"He's a guy in our program that is the epitome of maximizing his experience at USC," Carroll said. "He had a chance to go out last year, but wanted to graduate. He wanted to see what it was like to be a senior and have a chance to be a leader of this team.

"He wanted to maximize his ability for the next level."

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We've seen quite a few articles about Mays the last few days and this is the first one we linked because it's well written -- it points out his flaws, as well as his obvious talent. The writer is absolutely correct when he notes some N.F.L. teams view Taylor as a potential N.F.L. linebacker, while other teams see him as a future safety. We mentioned in the blog three years ago that Pete Carroll felt Mays would eventually make a great N.F.L. linebacker due to his excellent size/speed combination. In that sense, he's similar to Brian Urlacher, who Tony Dungy has openly admitted he really wanted to draft as a free safety in the spring of 2000 so he could pair him with future Hall of Famer John Lynch in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary. Obviously, Chicago drafted Urlacher and he was bulked up real quickly and moved to middle linebacker. So it will come down to which team drafts him in the first round of the 2010 draft and where they think he best fits their scheme.

Ok... let me get this out the way....... Eric Berry is the best Safety in next years draft.... I see Eric Berry as a FS and Taylor Mays is the best SS in the draft.......

SO i want to ask you guys...... Taylor Mays is big (6'3 235lbs) , strong, explosive, a good blitzer, and fast (i think he will run a 4.3 or 4.4 at the combine next year) ...

But yea...... So do you think Taylor Mays can play WLB in a cover 2 scheme (Derrick Brooks style) ?

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I wouldn't want Mays as "last line of defense" as safety ... he's not a sure enough tackler for that and gambles way to much to get the big hit. WLB would be a very good spot for him, but since he'd have to learn a new position for that, I wouldn't draft him before round 2, where he'll be gone already, since the Raiders will pick him up if he's there.

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