Thursday, August 28, 2008

Football’s Future: Cushing’s Health will determine draft status

Depending on what you read, USC’s Brian Cushing is a projected first round selection for the 2009 NFL draft. But before the linebacker can make truth of those projections, he’ll have to play a season free of injuries. As we find ourselves just two days from Southern Cal’s season opener in Virginia, Cushing is already provided with a gameday cast to add support to a sprained wrist.

Recruited heavily out of Bergen Catholic School in Park Ridge New Jersey, Cushing made an immediate impact as a Trojan freshman. He went from substitute and special teams player to starting strong side linebacker. His appearance with the first team defense may have arrived sooner, but a separated shoulder forced him out of action for 4 games.

As a sophomore, Cushing proved his versatility, becoming a hybrid that played either as a stand up defensive end or dropping back into the more familiar linebacker role. His second year showed his first complete season, though he missed the majority of the spring rehabbing from shoulder surgery. It was capped with the defensive MVP award of the 2007 Rose Bowl game. But health issues appeared again, just one year later. After battling a hamstring injury in the spring, he followed it up with arthroscopic knee surgery in the fall. He opened the junior season with an ankle injury against Idaho, which kept him out of the starting lineup for a couple of early season games. He returned, only to re-aggravate the ankle and miss 3 more.

The rap on Brian Cushing is that he possesses a world of talent that is eye catching to NFL scouts. But at the same time, he’s tagged as injury prone, which serves as a negative and increases possibility of a slide in draft position. Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson wore the same tag when leaving school, which likely assisted in the best player in college football sliding to No. 7 overall in the 2007 draft. Peterson fell as a running back, and injuries become more concerning for defensive positions that draw high impact collisions on nearly every play from scrimmage.

Before he can reach that first round in next year’s draft, Cushing will have to prove his durability. Anything less than surviving the rigors of the 12 game 2008 slate, will reflect on a scouting table’s notes as just one injury-free season in a four year college career. Though his name appears on many college football defensive awards watch lists, it will be health, and not talent, that will determine his rise or fall in draft position.

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