Maualuga Is Pushing Lua for Starting Linebacker Spot
While John David Booty's back injury slowed USC's quarterback competition, the battle to become the Trojans' defensive signal caller remains alive and spirited.
Senior middle linebacker Oscar Lua is the returning starter who led the Trojans in tackles in 2005, but sophomore Rey Maualuga is pushing to overtake his more experienced teammate.
After the Trojans completed a two-hour workout in driving rain on Tuesday, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Maualuga said he had made major strides since last season, when he made 37 tackles, forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass.
"My freshman season, I was physically ready," Maualuga said. "Now, I'm mentally ready. I'm not afraid to make the calls or move people around."
USC Coach Pete Carroll said there was no need to make a determination about a starter.
But it is clear that Maualuga has stepped up his game.
"Oscar knows his stuff and has done a fine job of leading us," Carroll said. "We're real excited about Rey's development. He's very comfortable now in the spot…. He needs to play a lot for this football team."
One of the biggest challenges facing Carroll and defensive coordinator Nick Holt will be finding playing time for all of the members of what is regarded as perhaps the nation's deepest linebacker corps.
Junior Keith Rivers has been practicing at the strong-side spot, the weak-side spot and also at rush end. Sophomore Kaluka Maiava continues to impress, senior Dallas Sartz and sophomore Brian Cushing appear ahead of schedule in recovery from shoulder surgeries, and junior Thomas Williams should be fully recovered from abdominal surgery by training camp.
Ryan Powdrell, who played linebacker last season, switched to fullback this spring. Powdrell said the transition has not been difficult because he played the position at Mission Viejo High and Saddleback College.
"The hardest part is learning all the plays and the shifts," Powdrell said. "The athletic part: I have that down. It's just getting the mental reps."