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UCLA secondary has it covered

With Brown setting the tone in talk and action, the defensive backfield is expected to be one of nation's best

August 26, 2007|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Cornerback Trey Brown is talking, always talking.

This time the stream of consciousness is directed at teammate Marcus Everett, who has strayed into the territory Brown is patrolling during practice.

The football and Everett arrive at the appointed place and time, only to have Brown ruin the moment, then offer commentary.

Yakkity-yak . . . yakkity-yak . . . yakkity-yak.

"If he gets me out there, I expect him to say something," Everett said. "It's Trey."

Said tailback Chris Markey: "Trey talks a lot. Even if it's not directed toward me, I still hear him."

Said cornerback Rodney Van, "Trey is just a wild character."

The Bruins' defensive backs can probably let their play do the talking this season. But for the hearing-impaired opponent, there's Brown, who often asks receivers to lend him an ear just so he can bend it.

The senior from Overland Park, Kan., is the alpha male in a unit that is the linchpin of defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker's game plans. The Bruins attack on defense -- being undersized up front, there is no other option -- knowing lowlights from last season's collapse at Notre Dame are only a click away on YouTube.

That aggressive style requires a dependable secondary and the Bruins are stocked with four senior returning starters in Brown, Van and safeties Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes.

While UCLA's is not considered the Pacific 10 Conference's best secondary -- like almost everything else, USC tops that rating -- it is a talented unit that meets the Bruins' needs.

"You can leave them out there," middle linebacker Christian Taylor said. "If we want to come at somebody or we want to stop the run, you can't do that if you don't have a good secondary."

Yes, the Bruins are good -- just ask Brown.

"He cracks me up," Taylor said. "I remember one game there was this high-profile receiver we were keying on. They stopped throwing to him after a while and Trey was riding him the whole time, 'Hey, they forgot about you. They don't even want to throw you the ball.'

"I was laughing in the huddle after every play. He gets in guys' heads."

Said Brown: "I don't know if they like hearing me talk, but I always like to give them little tidbits throughout the game. Just to show them I'm out there each and every play."

Brown's skills go beyond verbal, though it's always part of the package. That was evident two seasons ago against Arizona State receiver Derek Hagan, who was soon to become a third-round NFL draft pick by the Miami Dolphins.

Said Keyes: "He just kept telling Hagan, 'Hey man, you might as well be wearing No. 79 because you're not getting the ball. You're like a lineman today.'

"Trey talks to everybody. That's something I love about the guy."

That, Walker said, is part of Brown's makeup as a cornerback. Still, "I let him go a little bit, but sometimes I say, 'Just do your . . . job.' " Walker said, smiling.

Brown does, which gives his bark some bite.

He led the team with four interceptions last season and his coverage skills are such that teams often chose to go at Van instead.

"Technique and instinct, that's what makes a good coverage guy," Walker said. "Trey also has savvy. I like guys who have savvy."

Brown is considered the top pro prospect in a secondary that the Sporting News ranked third nationally, though second in the city. USC is No. 1.

Another preview publication rated cornerbacks Brown, Van and reserve Alterraun Verner among the top 60 in the nation at the position.

Cornerback Michael Norris, who sat out because of an injured knee last season, adds depth to the secondary, as does the improvement of safeties Bret Lockett and Aaron Ware.

Now, Brown said, "It's time to go out there and prove that we're the best secondary in the nation."

Of course, talk can be cheap and the price for a gambling defense can be high in the Pac-10. Four of the five quarterbacks in the conference who averaged at least 215 yards passing last season return.

That list includes USC's John David Booty, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and Washington State's Alex Brink, who torched the Bruins for 405 yards passing and three touchdowns last season.

And the air will probably only get thicker. New Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson had Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Gino Torretta at Miami. Arizona brought in Sonny Dykes as offensive coordinator after he spent years honing the Texas Tech aerial show.

"People in this conference like to throw the ball, always have," former UCLA coach Terry Donahue said. "Your secondary is going to be tested every week. There are lots of ways you can get beat. The quickest is having a bad secondary."

Donahue said he emphasized recruiting safeties that could support the run defense. The Bruins have Horton and Keyes.

Horton, ranked among the best in the nation at strong safety, led the Bruins with 95 tackles last season. His tackle on a fourth-and-goal play against Arizona State preserved a 14-6 lead last season.

Keyes was third on the team with 79 tackles and forced a fumble in the 13-9 upset victory over USC.

That's not to say there weren't bad days. Brink skewered the secondary in a 37-15 Cougars victory. California's Nate Longshore completed 20 of 24 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns.

Those were considered learning moments.

"By the USC game, we had solidified," Keyes said. "With the chemistry we built last year and [in the] off-season, we're confident in each other. We know each other and trust our abilities.

"We've heard all the talk about how good we are. We don't pay attention. It all comes down to us going out there and doing it."

And, in Brown's case, providing some colorful commentary.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

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