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All right, draftniks. You know that Pewter Report is the undisputed king of Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft coverage. We've listed players, such as wide receiver Dexter Jackson (2008), offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah (2008), quarterback Josh Johnson (2008), defensive end Gaines Adams (2007), linebacker Quincy Black (2007), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (2006), quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (2006), middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (2005), cornerback Torrie Cox (2003) – among others, at their respective positions in the Bucs' Best Bets sections of Pewter Report's annual Bucs Draft Preview.
As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, Pewter Report's resident draft experts, Scott Reynolds and Charlie Campbell, have spent countless hours watching over 12 college games per week and scouting which prospects would look good wearing red and pewter next year. With over 500 college games to review dating back over the last four years and countless scouting contacts throughout the NFL, Reynolds and Campbell are armed with the inside scoop needed to put together these scouting reports on players who might fit Tampa Bay's schemes on offense and defense.
The casual football fan already has a good deal of knowledge on likely first-round draft prospects, such as USC MLB Rey Maualuga, Georgia QB Matthew Stafford, and Ohio State OLB James Laurinaitis. These regular Pewter Insider features on PewterReport.com will scout out players that are candidates for the Buccaneers to select in next April's draft.
Will one of these players wind up being the next Ruud, Zuttah or Johnson? We'll all find out next April when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
USC LINEBACKER BRIAN CUSHING VITAL STATS: Sourthern Cal outside linebacker Brian Cushing checks in at 6-foot-3, 243-pounds. Cushing combines good speed with outstanding strength. At the NFL Scouting Combine, He tied for the most bench press repetitions of 225-pounds at his position with 30 reps. In this year's draft there is not a more versatile player on the defensive side of the ball then Cushing. He also is a very physical football player.
CREDENTIALS Cushing was one of the best players on one of the best defenses in college football. He combines good speed with great size. As a linebacker, Cushing does not have a weakness in his game, and is revered by NFL scouts for being able to do a variety of things for a defense. The Trojan star linebacker is a rare player for that reason.
RECORDS AND SUPERLATIVES Cushing was the defensive MVP of the 2007 Rose Bowl against Michigan. In 2008, he was a Sports Illustrated first team All-American and an All-Pac 10 team. The AP and Sporting News had Cushing as a second team All-American.
HIS BIGGEST GAMES 11/3/07 Oregon State five tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack 1/1/07 Michigan 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, four tackles for a loss, seven tackles 9/13/08 Ohio State 10 tackles, one tackles for a loss 10/4/08 Oregon six tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, two passes defensed 11/8/08 California nine tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack
WHY HE COULD BE A RED AND PEWTER PLAYER The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are undergoing a changing of the guard at linebacker. Barrett Ruud is set in the middle and is the leader of the linebacking corps, but outside of Ruud there are no set starters. Last season's starting outside linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June were released, and the Bucs have not signed any veterans to compete with young linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes.
Across the NFL, the sentiment is unanimous that Cushing is the most versatile defender in this year's draft. Cushing has the ability to play all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense. He also is a very good blitzer. The pass rushing skills that Cushing showcased when blitzing were honed in 2006 when as a sophomore Cushing started all season as a stand-up defensive end. Cushing has the size and strength to be a rush linebacker at the professional level, and that has a big appeal to teams that run a 3-4 scheme.
The Trojan standout is so versatile it is hard to say which spot would be his best in a 4-3, but if a choice had to be made this observer thinks he could be one of the best strongside linebackers in the NFL.
Cushing is very strong in run defense, and is a sure tackler that puts ballcarriers down hard. In pass coverage, Cushing is above average as well. He has the speed and athletic ability to be a good cover linebacker. He has no problem turning and running with running backs and tight ends. Breaking on the ball after reading the quarterback is another solid skill that Cushing has displayed in pass defense.
The Park Ridge, New Jersey product is also an excellent blitzer. That makes him more appealing to Tampa Bay in its new defensive scheme that will utilize more blitzes than the past Tampa 2 scheme under Monte Kiffin. As Cushing ages in the NFL and puts on more weight he could see some snaps as a rush end. That kind of player with that kind of versatility has had great success under Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor were dynamic players for Bates in Miami, and he used them in a variety of ways. Cushing is a player with that kind of diversity in his skill set.
Not only is Cushing extremely versatile, but he also has some other attributes that will be a great addition to the Bucs defense. New Bucs head coach Raheem Morris has stated that he wants the Buccaneers to get more physical in all phases of the game. Bringing in a player like Cushing would be a huge step in making the defense more physical. Cushing is heavy hitter that is explosive when making tackles and rushing the passer He hits hard and plays the game ferociously. Not only is Cushing nasty when hitting running backs and receivers, he also is very aggressive in taking on blockers and shedding them with violence. Watching Cushing is reminiscent of watching Ruud on Sundays.
Cushing can be an intimidating presence on the field. His power and brutality are evident every time you watch him. That kind of style would be a great fit alongside Ruud for seasons to come. Cushing definitely plays the game with a mean streak and a lot of energy.
If the Buccaneeers drafted Cushing and started him alongside Ruud with either Black or Hayes at the other spot, they would have three young linebackers who are extremely physical, violent defenders, that play with a chip on their shoulder. TOUGHEST TRANSITION IN TAMPA BAY Cushing has been beset by injuries over his seasons at Southern Cal. None of his injuries wiped out an entire season but they caused him to miss more then a few games and practice time. Those injuries were to his shoulder, ankle, and knee. Cushing will have to be cleared by the Bucs and other teams doctors, along with proving to those examiners that his body will hold up at the NFL level.
SPECIAL TEAMS FACTOR On Cushing's resumé is a 42-yard onside kick return for a touchdown against Notre Dame in November of 2006. That was Cushing's only kick return in college, and in the NFL he could be an excellent special teams player on punt and kick coverage due to his speed, size, power, and aggressive attitude.
DRAFT PROJECTION Cushing is a sure-fire first-rounder that could be selected by the time the Bucs pick at 19. If he falls to 19 it would not be surprising for Tampa Bay to take him. Last season, the Buccaneers capitalized on a player falling to the 20th spot that was expected to go earlier in the draft (cornerback Aqib Talib). While defensive end and quarterback seem to be the most likely positions the Bucs select in the first round, linebacker is under consideration and the dark horse position for that pick. Cushing is on the Bucs' radar, and is held in very regard at One Buc Place.
THE QUOTE Cushing spoke with Pewter Report at the Senior Bowl and had this to say about making the jump to the NFL:
"I think our level of play (at USC) is so high and intense that we are ready as any player could be coming into the league." THE HIGHLIGHTS