Rumblings Scouting Report: USC LB Brian Cushing

Briancushing_medium
USC outside linebacker Brian Cushing, No. 10 (LA Times)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, the editorial staff at Buffalo Rumblings will begin profiling draft prospects that may end up being potential targets of the Buffalo Bills.  jri111 drew the assignment of profiling the top linebackers in this year's class. In the spotlight today: USC's Brian Cushing.

Aside from defensive end, one of the Buffalo Bills' biggest needs identified by the Rumblings community is the linebacker position.  We started our examination of the position by profiling Wake Forest's Aaron Curry and continued our discussion with USC's Clay Matthews.  Today, we look at another USC linebacker: Brian Cushing. 

Along with his USC teammate Matthews, Cushing has recently been at the center of speculation regarding mandatory steroid testing at the Combine.  It had been rumored that the USC linebacker tested positive for steroids.  That prompted his former coach, Pete Carroll, to deny such allegations.  After the rumor started to spread, the league issued a statement indicating that none of the tests have yet to be made available to NFL teams.  With that in mind, we will take the same approach with Cushing as we did with Matthews: he's "clean" until proven otherwise. 

To help analyze Cushing's game we bring back Paragon SC of Conquest Chronicles, who was gracious enough to give us the lowdown on all three USC linebackers.  (And yeah... Rey Maualuga's report is coming.)

Brian Cushing - Linebacker, USC
6'3", 243 lbs, 4.74-second 40-yard dash
Senior
2008: 73 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT

Strengths: Ideal combination of size and athleticism.  Excellent strength.  Adequate speed.  Long arms.  Versatile, has played defensive end, strong-side and middle linebacker.  Physical, tough and intense.  Big hitter who looks to intimidate with his physicality.  Good tackler.  Great Instincts.  Attacks blocks aggressively. Good straight-line speed. Good flexibility to turn and run with tight ends and backs in coverage. Reads the quarterback well and can break on the ball. Decent pass rusher.  Started since his freshman season (although only played in 12 games entering his senior year due to injuries).

Weaknesses: Severe durability issues.  Missed five games in 2005 due to a shoulder separation, three games in 2007 because of a high ankle sprain, and underwent surgery after the 2006 and 2007 spring practices (shoulder and knee, respectfully).  Can rely on his athletic ability rather than his upper body strength to shed blocks.  Does not play up to his workout numbers.  Some suspect that he is a "workout warrior," who doesn't live up to his measurables.  Overrated as a pass rusher, even though he has experience at end.  Needs to develop more pass rush moves - relies too much on speed and athleticism.  Overaggressive at times.

Things to Know: Signed with USC as a potential strong safety candidate.

What did Paragon SC have to say about Brian Cushing?

BR: What are his strengths?

Paragon SC: He is fast with great instincts... Cushing is an aggressive, intense player that does a great job of bringing his body through the ball carrier on tackles and has an intimidation factor.  Cushing identifies the play quickly and is not easily fooled by misdirection plays… he stays at home. He can get penetration even when going up against a tight end. He is a full speed, downhill player who can change direction quickly while also being able to go sideline to sideline with the uncanny ability to open field tackles for his size.

BR: What are his weaknesses?

Paragon SC: There have been times when he has taken himself out the play (due to aggressiveness).  He is seen to do well in avoiding blocks and his aggressiveness comes out when taking on blockers, but he does need to work on shedding blockers.  He can drop back into coverage fairly effectively but he can get caught short in certain coverage schemes.  He has had some injury issues as he missed half the 2005 season with a shoulder injury. Missed most of 2007 with an ankle injury.

BR: Does he project better as a 4-3 OLB or a 3-4 OLB?

Paragon SC: Brian Cushing plays the SLB position, but he is able to play MLB... He has also played the "elephant" position at SC, where he is lined up as a defensive end. He can play inside or outside in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme.

Much more after the break...

By the Numbers
40-yard Dash: 4.74 (seventh best)
10-yard split: 1.53
20-yard split: 2.62
Bench Press: 30 reps (best among LBs)
Vertical jump: 35.0" (seventh best)
Broad jump: 10'0"(sixth best)
3-cone: 6.84 (best among LBs)
20-yard shuttle: 4.22 (fourth best)
60-yard shuttle: N/A

NFL Comparison?
New Era Scouting's take:

Could be as good as: Julian Peterson, Settle

Worst case scenario: Antwan Peek, Cleveland

Reviewing the Tape

Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Clay Matthews at USC Pro Day - 4.1.2009

Highlights via thebutkusaward:

More highlights thanks to Draft Party:


Senior bowl interview via Jmirgs:


Combine Preparation via Jmirgs:

Also, a lot of cool workout/combine preparation videos thanks to joedefranco.  Check them out!

Does he "fit the Bill?"
If you were only looking at size, strength and speed, he absolutely fits the Bills' need as a SLB in their 4-3.  Personally though, I think there are just too many question marks to consider him at the No. 11 overall pick.  For every outstanding positive, there is a major question mark to go along with it.  He's strong, athletic and plays fast, but he has very pedestrian statistics or game changing plays.  He's aggressive and plays hard, but he's not known as a leader.  He started as a freshman, but injuries have caused him to miss a good portion of his college career.  He's versatile, but is that because he doesn't have a true position?

Other Scouting Reports and Rankings

NFL.com
Draft Countdown
New Era Scouting
CDS Draft
NFLDraftScout
Walter Football

Again, many thanks to Paragon SC of Conquest Chronicles  for providing his insight on Brian Cushing!

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