September 19, 2008

Mays and Ellison anchor defense

Marc Tyler gets a hand off, and he looks for his first hole.

If things go right, the offensive line will open up a running lane, and Tyler will burst through. From there, he may have to make a move to shake a linebacker.

Then, it's supposed to get easier.

But at a USC practice, it doesn't. It may even get worse.

Lurking in the back, safeties Kevin Ellison and Taylor Mays are ready to issue some punishment.

"Usually, once you get through the line and the linebackers, you're fine. You won't get hit all that hard," Tyler said. "When you get to those guys, man… Taylor's like a giant, and Kevin will just hit you in the mouth. He's one of the hardest hitters on the team.

"It's like running into two more linebackers."

Ellison isn't sympathetic to the running backs' plight.

"We're pretty big safeties," he said.

Mays and Ellison are anchoring one of the nation's best defenses on the country's top-ranked team, and they're doing it with great proficiency.

"They play like seasoned veterans," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "They're so fluent in terms of the game plan and our adjustments that we really can communicate with those guys. They're like NFL veterans.

"It's fun to play on that level."

Mays and Ellison are a big reason why the Trojan defense has yielded just 10 points in two games.

"We've been taking care of the deep ball, tackling well up front and playing the ball," Mays said. "They've been able to get some stuff underneath, but they've got to get something. We'd rather it be the short stuff.

"We know we can't be beat if we take away the deep ball."

With Mays and Ellison lining up at the back of the defense, Carroll said the team's able to expand its playbook - even to pages that haven't been installed.

"At halftime (of the Ohio State game), we did some different things that we needed to fix, and those guys are in the back making the calls and making sure we're lined up right," Carroll said. "Without that background, trust and reservoir of things we've done, we wouldn't have been able to pull out some things we hadn't done."

With superior experience, loads of athleticism and immeasurable toughness, Mays and Ellison have earned mention with the nation's best defensive backs. And surprisingly, Mays said, their toughest work comes before Saturdays.

"We're challenged in practice everyday going against our offense. We don't see the speed like we do on the offensive line or with the receivers," Mays said. "The offense doesn't get as much credit as they probably should because we have so many big-name players. They really make us better. The offense makes us the defense we are because of their speed and talent.

"We go against other offenses, and it's almost easy."

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