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New Orleans Saints News

News » Top receiver Crabtree needs surgery on foot

Top receiver Crabtree needs surgery on foot

Top receiver Crabtree needs surgery on foot
INDIANAPOLIS -- If only the Saints could make some sort of exclusive farm-team arrangement with Southern Cal, perhaps they could get their defense turned around in a hurry.

Last year the Saints traded up to draft Trojans defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis with their first-round pick, two spots ahead of USC linebacker Keith Rivers.

This year, with the 14th pick, they will undoubtedly take a long look at the Trojans' trio of linebackers -- Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews III and Rey Maualuga -- all of whom are projected as first-round prospects.

Cushing and Matthews make the most sense for New Orleans because they project as outside linebackers in a 4-3 defense. Maualuga is an inside linebacker -- a position the Saints hope to secure by re-signing Jonathan Vilma in free agency.

This is a deep draft for outside linebackers, but most of them are 'tweeners who fit best in a 3-4 or as defensive ends in a 4-3.

The best 4-3 outside linebacker prospect is Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, but he's expected to be among the top five picks.

Both Cushing (6 feet 3, 243 pounds) and Matthews (6-3, 245) are versatile athletes who can track down runners, rush the passer and drop into coverage, and both moved around quite a bit in Southern Cal's 4-3 system.

Either player would add playmaking ability to the Saints' defense. Not surprisingly, both of them were expecting to conduct formal interviews with the Saints this week during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I think of myself as one of the top linebackers, regardless of defensive schemes. That's what I'm hoping this week to prove," said Cushing, who has been projected anywhere from the early teens to the 20s in the first round, and said he has no preference between a 4-3 and 3-4 system.

Cushing spent most of his sophomore year playing defensive end as an injury replacement, and that versatility will be attractive to a lot of teams in Round 1.

Matthews began at USC as a walk-on who barely weighed 200 pounds. Although he comes from one of the greatest family trees in NFL history -- grandson for former NFL player Clay Matthews, son of longtime NFL linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews -- he admittedly was a "late bloomer" who didn't get any Division I scholarship offers.

Matthews chose USC, he said, even though it meant being a "small fish in a big pond" because he felt he could play at that level.

"Did I see myself here today? Absolutely not," Matthews said. "But at the same time, it gave me the right platform."

Matthews, who added more than 40 pounds to his frame during his college career, first made his mark on special teams. He was the team's co-special teams player of the year the past three seasons, an honor that will further entice NFL teams.

"People who think he's just a try-hard overachiever are wrong," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "He can rush the passer better than any other USC linebacker. I think he'll be a 10-year starter."

Matthews said the Trojans' linebackers were extremely competitive in college -- a group that also includes late-round prospect Kaluka Maiava.

"We were always looking to see who could get the most tackles, the most sacks . . . the most publicity. It was real fun," Matthews said.

Now they're jockeying for position in the draft.

Of course, the USC player who might have been the best fit in New Orleans is safety Taylor Mays, based on the Saints' glaring need at the position. But he elected to return to school for his senior season.

Maybe next year.

CRABTREE INJURED: The biggest news Saturday was the revelation that Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree has a stress fracture in his left foot and will have surgery that could sideline him for about two months.

The stress fracture was discovered during medical testing Friday. Though the injury is not considered serious, it will keep him from working out before the draft and could cost the top prospect a few million dollars. Many had rated Crabtree as the best player in the draft.

Whether he falls outside of the top five or 10 remains to be seen. Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, for one, said he places a lot more weight on what he sees from game tape than how a player looks at the Combine and his pro day.

Last year, for example, the Carolina Panthers still selected running back Jonathan Stewart with the 13th overall pick, even though he was plagued by a toe injury in the months leading up to the draft.

Saints INTERVIEW RAJI: NFL teams gets to spend 15 minutes each with 60 prospects of their choosing during the combine -- a process that USC quarterback Mark Sanchez compared to "speed dating."

One of the players the Saints met with Thursday night was Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who is projected to be a top-10 pick. Raji said the Saints played the tape from four of his plays from college and asked him to explain in thorough detail what his assignment was, what he was asked to do and what he was looking for in each situation.

SMITH SKIPS OUT: Another top-10 prospect, Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, didn't help his draft stock Saturday. Not only did he skip the offensive line workouts, which he announced that he would participate in Friday, but he skipped out on the entire Combine without informing anyone that he was leaving. Smith later told the NFL Network that he flew to Atlanta to meet with his personal trainer and said he wished he had handled it differently.

Smith still has plenty of time to repair his image, but there were already some concerns about him heading into this week. He was suspended from Alabama's appearance in the Sugar Bowl for alleged contact with an agent, and he has struggled to stay in shape.

As for those linemen who did work out Saturday, LSU guard Herman Johnson recorded unofficial times of 5.53 seconds and 5.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to the NFL Network broadcast. After weighing in at a "svelte" 364 pounds this week, Johnson said he wanted to post a time of 5.3 seconds. But he likely didn't hurt his draft stock. Scouts have been impressed with how well he carries his weight.

At tight end, Southern Miss' Shawn Nelson, a Gonzales native, posted the second-fastest time at 4.56 seconds.

. . . . . . .

Mike Triplett can be reached at mtriplett@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3405.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 22, 2009

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