Even though there will be a bowl game to play after today's season finale against Arizona there is no question that many of us will miss Taylor Mays...
Mays has been one of the most recognizable players in the program in the is four years at USC. There was no question that he is a tremendous talent.
Freakish is a word that comes to mind.
But to me the term that most describes him is "physically complete."
Mays is a hybrid player...you can either play him at safety or move him to linebacker...but no matter where you put him he will be a force and he will be successful.
Outside of not playing for an MNC there will be a few that will say that Mays coming back was a mistake. I don't, it is amazing how Mays has been maligned in some circles. He could have left last season for the NFL for some big money but he enjoyed college life, promised to finish school and get his degree and wanted to continue to play at USC.
It wasn't a matter of whether Mays would have been a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft but how high he would have gone. Even Pete Carroll might not have put up a fight (OK, maybe a small one, but it wouldn't have been Sanchez-sized).
But Mays decided to come back, seeking self-improvement and citing unreached goals. Based on the way the season has turned out, the question had to be asked:
Did he ever second-guess himself?
Mays says he never did.
"I don't regret coming back," the two-time All-America safety said. "It's kind of been perfect, the amount of time I've been here."I feel like I learned more about football. I learned how to play safety. I learned what the best safeties do in every situation. Working with Coach Carroll and Coach (Rocky) Seto, mentally I've been able to take my game to the next level."
A cursory look at Mays' season could lead to a different conclusion. He isn't a finalist for any of the major defensive awards. USC has three losses – its most in the past eight seasons. And Mays has only one interception.
But his contributions aren't easily quantifiable. This is how Carroll described the way Mays has improved:"He's made it in what he's seeing. He's able to diagnose what's going on really well. He's in really good command of the system such that he can correct guys, position guys, place guys in the right spots, give the heads-ups and alerts – the kind of awareness that's necessary for really being a contributing factor to other guys' play."
There was a lot of pre-season hype about just how good Mays and what his impact would be as the leader of the defense. The USC secondary was going to look very different with all the shuffling of players, but once CB Shareece Wright became academically ineligible that changed things around significantly and I think it showed on the playing field.
As a 3-year starter and as the fastest guy on the team Mays was the last line of defense out there. It changed his role but I also think there is some legitimate criticism that Mays' tackling technique could use some improvement. I think he would be better served to wrap guys up instead of always going for the big hit.
There are some saying that Mays staying probably hurt his draft stock for 2010...
But for Taylor Mays, the pre-draft roller-coaster ride started 11 months ago when the two-time All-American safety made the surprising announcement that he was returning to USC for a fourth and final season.
"It's funny," Mays said this week. "I've been, what's the word? Scrutinized."
Picked apart might be more accurate.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Mays was projected as a possible top-five pick in 2009, a key player for a dominant defense who was too physically gifted for teams to pass up.
As he prepares for today's game against Arizona, his last appearance at the Coliseum, Mays' stock has fallen, though not precipitously.
NFL scouts cite a lack of interceptions. They question his hands, tackling and playmaking skills.
The Seattle native's play this season has elicited criticism from media and fans, and even earned him an unnamed, and unflattering reference in the congressional record regarding late hits.
Well, criticism from the media and fans is immaterial.
Regardless, the extra year definitely gave him more experience for him to take to the next level and whatever flaws there may be in his game the coaches at the next level will work those out...Mays has too much talent and potential not too improve his game.
No one really knows what NFL teams need what, so I think it is very premature to say that his prospects aren't as good as they were last year. I see no reason not to think that he won't have a solid NFL career...but we have to get through today (and the bowl game) first.
Part of Mays' struggles this year were because of the knee injury that he suffered against Ohio St. I do think that the injury was a direct result of a poor tackling technique and it probably affected Mays' quality of play all season. Of course there was the one play that Mays made against Jahvid Best when he ran Best down to deny him a first down up at Berkley.
Mays will go down in USC history as one of the great Trojans. He has meant so much to this program and he has represented it very well. He has always been one of my favorites in this incredible run that Pete Carroll has had.
Lets hope he goes out with a bang!