A Trojan in Tampa?

Keith Rivers (AP Photo)

USC head coach Pete Carroll was seen on the sidelines of Wednesday's practice session chatting with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Was Carroll lobbying his old employer on behalf of one of his many defensive players in Saturday's Senior Bowl? One senior all-American certainly stands out this week.

Derrick Brooks. Lance Briggs. These are the guys that Southern Cal linebacker Keith Rivers looks up to.

He played weak side linebacker for the Trojans, just like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend and the current Chicago Bears star.

So it's no surprise Brooks and Briggs are the guys that Rivers watches on Sundays.

"I don't know them, but I can tell what type of guys they are just by watching them play on the field," Rivers said.

You could say the same things about Rivers (6-foot-3, 237 pounds), who many project as a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. In fact, if the Bucs didn't have such a need at other positions, Rivers might be the perfect pick for them in the first round.

He possesses great speed and quickness, clocking in as low as 4.57 in the 40-yard dash. He has tremendous lateral quickness and pursuit. During Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice he did a great job of changing direction after recognizing a screen pass and smoothly got into position to make the tackle.

His former coach, Pete Carroll stood on the sidelines during the North practice on Wednesday morning with Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Perhaps Carroll was lobbying for Rivers? Maybe.

"He is really fast and tough," Carroll said recently. "He has an unusual body in that he can strike guys in a small space and unload on them."

Plus, Rivers is a Southern Cal linebacker, a position that has produced some pretty good pros of late.

We're talking about players like Seattle's Lofa Tatupu and Cleveland's Willie McGinest.

In fact, McGinest has become a mentor of sorts to Rivers, who wears McGinest's No. 55.

"I was at practice we were doing a drill and I could have had a better look," Rivers said. "And he was like ‘You can't do that. No. 55 means too much.' He always lets me know to keep it going, you have that No. 55 on."

That pride could be part of the reason he's playing this week. He admits that he's battled an ankle injury of late and is really only 75-80 percent. But he said he wanted to play this week because he wanted to measure himself against the best players in the country.

He's also done a lot of shuffling around. He was a weak side linebacker at USC, but he said he's played in the middle and on the strong side this week and is comfortable with all three.

"I'm used to the will (weak side), but I started the week at Sam (strong side), I was at Will yesterday and Mike (middle) today," Rivers said. "I've played them all. I'm sure it helps that I can be versatile and play all three."

One reporter asked Rivers — who turned in an All-American season with 78 tackles — if he was a punisher or a pursuer. Rivers gave the reporter an answer that the Bucs probably would have liked.

"I'm both," Rivers said. "I just like getting the job done."

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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