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Showcase Is a Mixed Bag at USC

Leinart, Bush and Justice impress NFL coaches with their skills, but White draws criticism for not running.

April 03, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

On a day showcasing USC's Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, quite possibly the top two picks in this month's NFL draft, much of the buzz Sunday surrounded another pair of Trojans.

It was an afternoon for Winston Justice's scrapbook -- and one for LenDale White's scrap heap.

While Justice seemed to solidify a spot in the top half of the first round, White didn't run because of hamstring soreness, and, as a result, might see his stock take a big dip.

"I hope this young man realizes before the draft that he needs to run," said Charley Casserly, general manager of the Houston Texans. "Or I hope he's made a deal with a team that's going to take him in the first round."

As for Bush and Leinart, their performances were predictably strong though not overwhelming. With more than 100 NFL coaches, executives and scouts watching his every move, Leinart put on a half-hour passing display that highlighted his ability to throw on the run and put some zip on his long passes. After some early jitters and misfires -- his first two passes were dropped -- he zeroed in on his targets, an array of receivers including Trojan teammates Dominique Byrd, William Buchanon and Bush.

"I feel like a big weight's been lifted off my shoulders today," Leinart said. "This is the day we've all been preparing for since the Rose Bowl. I just came out here and got the job done.... I probably could have done better, but I'm happy with what I showed, with what I proved to people who had any questions."

Most of the timing and testing took place at USC's track stadium, where more than 1,000 spectators watched from the stands.

On the field were dozens of team representatives, among them head coaches such as Carolina's John Fox, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and Houston's Gary Kubiak.

Dozens of agents were there too, and began the day with a stern admonishment from Trojan Coach Pete Carroll, who used colorful language in warning them to stay away from his underclassmen.

"I just wanted them to make sure they're aware of the rules and all the issues so they're real clear about it," Carroll explained later. "We were determined not to let them step out of bounds with what their role was today."

Part of the reason USC's pro day was later in the year than that of any other school was to allow Carroll to invite the Trojan recruits to attend. With well-known coaches and executives milling about, the event surely would turn the head of a coveted prospect.

For some of the former Trojans, the testing will continue. The Tennessee Titans, owners of the third pick, will put Leinart through a private workout today in Los Angeles. The New York Jets, who draft fourth, have similar plans in the coming weeks. Although New Orleans has the second pick and at one point was taking a hard look at Leinart, the Saints might trade out of the spot now that they've signed former San Diego quarterback Drew Brees.

Norm Chow, Tennessee's offensive coordinator who had the same job with the Trojans, said Leinart showed everything he needed to show to change the minds of any remaining skeptics.

"I think a lot of people were worried about arm strength," Chow said. "I think he answered that question."

Bush, meanwhile, ran the 40-yard dash in a sizzling 4.33 seconds -- he said he was hoping for an even better time -- and had a vertical jump of 40 1/2 inches. Not surprisingly, both were the best performances of the day.

"I think I proved I should be the No. 1 pick," he said.

But White, his counterpart in the Trojan backfield, has some convincing to do, especially after bench-pressing 225 pounds only 15 times -- only more than punter Tom Malone -- and skipping the running portion of the day. He said he suffered a tweaked hamstring on an exercise machine at the scouting combine six weeks ago and said he hasn't felt right since.

"I would rather pull back than pull up and get hurt for another couple of months," said White, adding he still believes he's a first-rounder.

Many of the team representatives were unimpressed.

"If you're a team, how do you take a running back who doesn't run a 40-yard dash?" Casserly said. "At some point, you've got to find out how fast somebody is."

Justice impressed scouts with 39 bench-press repetitions and a 39-inch vertical jump, a jaw-dropping performance by a 320-pound player. Some scouts have projected him as a left tackle in the pros, the most challenging position on the offensive line.

"He's an outstanding football player on tape, number one," Fox said. "And he just helped himself today with all his numbers. A 39-inch vertical jump is off the charts for a big guy, and his bench press was phenomenal with those long arms. And he's a young player. So I think the upside on him is tremendous."

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

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