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Gabriel: USC’s Gustin, VT’s Hill play — and play well — to open college season

September 9, 2018

USC and Virginia Tech are traditionally very good football teams that produce top NFL talent every year. Last week, each team went into its first game of the 2018 football season with arguably its best defense player questionable to play.

In the case of USC, it was OLB Porter Gustin, a three-year starter and potential high draft pick who had knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear just a few weeks before the first game. This is the second year in a row where an injury has had an effect on Gustin. Last year he had surgery to repair a fractured toe and only played in four games. He still was able to compile 16 total tackles and 3.0 sacks in that limited play time.

Gustin, who is listed as being 6’5 – 260, is a very good athlete with speed, strength, power and explosiveness. He has natural edge pass-rush skills and just needs to stay healthy in order to realize his potential.

In USC’s opener vs. UNLV, Gustin started but did not play every snap. Still, his presence was felt as he recovered a fumble and had 1.5 sacks and three total tackles for the game. As he gets to 100 percent following the knee surgery, he will be even more productive. The talent is there for him to be a high pick in next April’s draft, but he has to prove to scouts that he can play a full season without injury.

Going into Virginia Tech’s opener at Florida State, there was a question whether DE Trevon Hill would even play. Hill is easily the best pass rusher on the Virginia Tech defense, with 5.5 sacks a year ago. The problem with Hill was not injury but academics, and Virginia Tech wasn’t sure Hill would even be eligible.

Because of his academic problems, Hill did not start for Virginia Tech, and it was not until the second quarter that he got in. Still, he had an immediate impact on the game with a sack in his first series of play. For the game, Hill finished with 4 total tackles — including three tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. In a limited amount of plays, that is excellent production. Hill should be back in the starting lineup this week.

Because of his academic issues, many scouts feel that this will be Hill’s final season at Virginia Tech. Though he plays down for the Hokies, he will most likely be an outside linebacker at the next level, where he’s used strictly as a pass rusher on passing downs.

Hill is listed as being 6’3 – 245, and he has the frame to carry at least another 10 solid pounds. He is quick and fast, and I would estimate that he will run in the low 4.6s, if not faster. He is very quick off the ball, knows how to use his hands and has the flexibility and moves to be very productive as a pass rusher. Despite being only 245, he shows strength but will still need to get bigger and stronger to be effective at the next level. As we all know, effective pass rushers are drafted high — every club is looking for them.

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