Two Trojans vying for NFL top rookie honors
Pete Carroll’s loss at linebacker has become the NFL’s blessing, with each delivering the immediate impact performances expected of their selections. But two of the four members of last year’s group have taken it a step beyond, finding stardom among seasoned veterans, and vying for defensive rookie of the year honors.
Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews took different roads to USC, with one being the 5-star recruit from New Jersey, and the other walking-on to the program, despite possessing the famed football bloodline. Those roads climaxed with a collision in the first round of the NFL draft, and now the audition and comparisons continue, in search of the NFL best first-year defensive star.
Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of Brian Cushing that he was ready to play when he got off the bus. That was before the season ever began. Cushing backed up the coach’s claim, bursting on the scene for 64 tackles and 3 interceptions in the 12 games played. Having a nose for the ball and sniffing out each play, this Trojan is easily an early leader for rookie of the year, but a former teammate is closing the gap.
Unlike Cushing, there was a little uncertainty when Matthews was drafted with the expectations of being the same pass rushing beast in the new 3-4 Packers package coached by Dom Capers, as witnessed under Pete Carroll and USC. Green Bay traded up to select Matthews in the first round, and he’s failed to disappoint, making the decision appear a thing of genius. With seven sacks on the season, Matthews is second in the division to Minnesota’s Jared Allen, and tied for league best among rookies with Washington’s Brian Orakpo.
Cushing and Matthews are trying to join Chip Banks (1982), Duane Bickett (1985), and Mark Carrier (1990) on a list of Trojans that have won the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year award.