The scouts who rate prospects for the NFL Draft have several reasons to project safety Darnell Bing as a possible first-round selection.
He's big. He's smart. He's physical. He's a sure tackler. He has great natural instincts.
And perhaps most importantly, he played at Southern California, which over the years has proven to be something of a breeding ground for NFL safeties.
The USC media guide lists 23 Trojans who have gone on to play either strong or free safety for at least one year in the NFL. That lists includes Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Willie Wood as well Sammy Knight, Ifeanyi Ohalete and Troy Polamalu, who have been on NFL rosters the last five seasons.
School that rules:Southern California (Rashard Cook, David Gibson, Sammy Knight, Ifeanyi Ohalete, Troy Polamalu, Frank Strong, Jason Sehorn).
Coming attractions: Darnell Bing, Scott Ware.
Runners-up:Florida State (Michael Boulware, Devin Bush, Derrick Gibson, Chris Hope, Dexter Jackson, Shevin Smith, B.J. Ward), Georgia Tech (James Butler, Nick Ferguson, Lee Flowers, Ryan Stewart, Travares Tillman, Chris Young), LSU (Ryan Clark, Jack Hunt, Norman LeJeune, Adrian Mayes, Marcus Randall, Mark Roman), Miami (Al Blades, James Lewis, Earl Little, Tremain Mack, Jeff Popovich, Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Darryl Williams), Nebraska (Mike Brown, Josh Bullocks, Scott Frost, Jammal Lord, Mike Minter, Jerrell Pippens, Joe Walker), Oklahoma (William Bartee, Jason Belser, Donte Nicholson, Brodney Pool, Roy Williams), Stanford (O.J. Atogwe, Colin Branch, John Lynch, Tank Williams, Coy Wire), UCLA (Marques Anderson, Tommy Bennett, Ben Emanuel, Shaun Williams), Virginia Tech (Cory Bird, Keion Carpenter, Vincent Fuller, Kevin McCadam, Willie Pile, Pierson Prioleau, Nick Sorensen), Washington State (Hamza Abdullah, Erik Coleman, Steve Gleason, Earl Riley, Lamont Thompson).
Sleeper school:San Diego State. The Aztecs had three NFL starting safeties last season: Will Demps of the Baltimore Ravens, Robert Griffith of the Arizona Cardinals and Brian Russell of the Cleveland Browns. Demps has since signed with the New York Giants.
Position U? When is comes to safeties, USC is position you bet.
Consider these highlights of former USC safeties:
? Lott played in 10 Pro Bowls.
? Wood was All-NFL six times.
? Dennis Smith was a six-time Pro Bowler.
? Tim McDonald played in six Pro Bowls.
? Mark Carrier, now an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, played in three Pro Bowls.
? Polamalu has played in only one Pro Bowl, but has been in the NFL only three seasons.
Really, USC's incredible lineage of safeties should come as no surprise. There's always plenty of highly regarded high school prospects in talent-rich southern California, as well as other outstanding athletes around the nation drawn by the allure of Los Angeles and USC's safety tradition.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Bing certainly fit that profile when he signed with USC out of Longbeach Poly (Calif.) High School, where he was a prep All-American.
However, the Trojans had to offer a little more than an unmatched track record for a great number of pro safeties. They also had to offer a great number. Athletic Director Mike Garrett's retired No. 20 to be exact.
"(USC head football coach) Pete Carroll came up to me and said, 'You've got to give up your number,' " Garrett recalled. "I said, 'Really.' I said, 'If Bing's that good, let him have it. But if he's not I want my number back and retired.' "
Bing proved worthy. He earned All-Pac 10 and All-American honors while helping the Trojans to a couple of national championships.
"He's such a natural athlete," Carroll said. "He's able to come up with the right decision and (knows) how to make plays when the time comes. That's what's allowed him to look so good early and make a spot for himself.
"In practice, there have been a lot of balls that are tipped around and deflected, and he comes up with them. He has great hands. He's extremely quick and strong, so when he gets in there, he can fight his way to the football. He's got a golden horseshoe in his back pocket. Sometimes, there are safeties who are like that."
And usually they seem to play at USC.
Why Southern Cal is Safety U:
The Trojans had three starting safeties in the NFL last season, including one of the league's top defensive players in Polamalu. The hard-hitting Knight is a former Pro Bowl selection with nine years of starting experience. Ohalete has owned starting jobs with Washington, Arizona and Cincinnati the last three years. Carrier was a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his 11-year career. And even though Sehorn is better known as a New York Giants cornerback, he finished his career as a St. Louis Rams safety. Both of USC's starting safeties this year ? Darnell Bing and Scott Ware ? are expected to be drafted. Bing should get selected in the first two rounds.
USC had plenty of competition for this honor from two Florida schools. Florida State had two starting safeties in the most recent Super Bowl ? Hope for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Boulware for the Seattle Seahawks. Jackson earned Super Bowl MVP honors with Tampa Bay after playing for the Seminoles. Florida State's Pat Watkins probably will get selected in the first three rounds of this year's draft. Miami boasts two of the league's best safeties in Ed Reed and Sean Taylor. They should get plenty of company in the next few years with the anticipated arrivals of current Hurricane standouts Brandon Meriweather and Kenny Phillips.