Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Who needs practice? Not Rivers

It’s supposed to be a slow transition for rookies entering the NFL. The game is faster, athletes better, and playbooks thicker. A quick adjustment is seldom. Adjustment without practice is never. So why was Keith Rivers able to trot across an NFL playing field, line up against an opponent, and excel at his position?

Rivers is fresh off a newly signed contract with the Bengals, meaning his hold out caused him to miss the majority of camp and preparation drills. But still, he played in his first NFL game on Monday night against the Green Bay Packers, leading the team with 7 unassisted tackles.

Work ethic is what separated Rivers from many linebacker prospects across the country. He follows in the footsteps of Lofa Tatupu and Troy Polamalu, who also adjusted quickly to NFL offenses, slowing the game down in nearly an instant. Early on, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis referred to Rivers as a junkie, constantly watching and studying film. Ken Norton Jr. created those film junkies, as the linebackers coach at USC. Rivers benefited by his decision to remain in school for his senior year, and continue to work under Norton’s guidance. His draft stock rose, his skills sharpened, and like a sponge, his brain absorbed the knowledge of he position.

The decision to stay in school, along with the noticeable improvement in Rivers’ game, prompted senior linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing to do the same. The physical tools are there, but they’ll look to better themselves mentally, raising their 2009 draft stock and lengthening the legacy of Trojan linebackers and the NFL.

Fight On!

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