Since 2006, when Taylor Mays first took the field as the Trojans’ starting safety, fans became accustomed to the Seattle native’s highlight-reel hits, subtle speed and uncanny physical presence.
Whether it was the knockout blow he delivered on Arizona running back Keola Antolin during a 2008 clash with the Wildcats or the jaw-dropping hit he laid on Penn State’s Jordan Norwood in the 2009 Rose Bowl, Mays’ collegiate career was defined by the reckless abandon with which he patrolled the Trojans’ secondary.
So it was no surprise to NFL coaches and scouts that the most memorable play at practice for the 2010 Under Armour Senior Bowl during the past few days came from the former Trojan.
At the South Team’s first practice in Mobile, Ala., Mays treated the throng of reporters, NFL scouts and team administrators in attendance to the level of physicality the 6-foot-3, 230-pound safety expects to bring at the next level.
Unfortunately for wide receiver Andre Roberts, who hails from the small Football Championship Subdivision school of Citadel, the memo of Mays’ devastating hits must not have made its way to South Carolina.
On what appeared to be a simple seam route, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson delivered the ball to Roberts in stride. One problem: Mays was trailing Roberts. Within seconds of catching the pass, Roberts was nailed by the USC safety, who dislodged the ball and left a captive audience ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
One complaint of NFL scouts is that Mays, in his fervor for hard hitting, is often overly zealous in pursuing the hit instead of making the right play.
On the next play, Robinson badly overthrew Colin Peek, a tight end from Alabama. Mays, who would have been in perfect position to capitalize on the poor throw, instead went in for a monstrous hit on Peek. The tight end avoided the safety and the ball hit the ground and a chance to make a big play was wasted for Mays, a probable first-round draft pick.
Mays, who before the 2009 college football season found himself as a top-10 candidate on draft prognosticator Mel Kiper’s big board for the 2010 NFL Draft in April, has seen his stock drop after an up-and-down season that saw the Trojans finish an underwhelming 9-4.
Trojan offensive tackle Charles Brown, who Kiper predicts will land somewhere in the second round of the April draft, will be forced to sit out of all Senior Bowl activities because of a calf strain.
Senior offensive lineman Jeff Byers and tight end Anthony McCoy also made the trip to Mobile, hoping to improve their draft status as well. Both McCoy and Byers are currently projected as second-day picks.
Former Trojan running back Stafon Johnson made his much-anticipated return to the football field for Senior Bowl practices this week, just over three months removed from his horrific weight-lifting accident that threatened his life and ended his senior season. NFL scouts worry about Johnson’s injury, but, for the Trojans’ leading rusher in 2008, just being back on the field was a welcomed sight in Mobile.