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Look for unsung Trojan horses

Safety Bing ready to emerge from shadows

Pick any University of Southern California player not named Reggie Bush or Matt Leinart, and you will find someone who played in the shadow of a teammate.

The two Heisman Trophy winners were college superstars, but there was a host of stars in the Cardinal and Gold. After all, the Trojans did win 37 of 39 games the last three seasons.

Meet strong safety Darnell Bing, who could be one of five Trojans taken in the first round of Saturday's NFL draft.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 227-pound All-American is perhaps the biggest, hardest-hitting defensive back available, though few outside of draft war rooms know him.

The Patriots know him. They met with him when the Trojans held their pro day April 2, and again last week when they brought him to Foxborough for a visit.

''I did very well on my pro day and have been getting positive feedback since then," said Bing, who is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick. ''Teams have said they like my style of play."

According to Bing, the phrase ''tight hips" made it onto his scouting report, hurting his early rating. That is considered a strong negative in evaluating defenders. Loose hips -- the ability to turn quickly and adjust to pass routes and run cuts -- are what teams look for.

And Bing suffered in comparison with his predecessor, Troy Polamalu, the speed demon who helped Pittsburgh win this year's Super Bowl.

Bing figures he forced some scouts to use whiteout on their reviews with his fluid movement in workouts and 4.53-second 40-yard dash.

''I think being able to read keys is a strength of mine," Bing said. ''And I know I have side-to-side speed, and good lateral movement. I think I have many pluses."

Another plus is day-to-day practice sessions against some of the most explosive players in the country. Matching up with pass catchers the caliber of Bush, the likely first overall pick Saturday, Mike Williams, a top-10 pick a year ago, and Dwayne Jarrett, a likely top-10 pick next year, can only help.

''Playing at Southern Cal, you go against a lot of great athletes out there," Bing said. ''You're going to get the best of the best at practice. It made it a lot easier on Saturdays, when we went against an opponent."

(FYI: Bing said he was in lockdown coverage on Texas tight end David Thomas when Vince Young scooted untouched into the end zone with the winning touchdown in the Rose Bowl.)

Count Bing among USC's most talented athletes. So talented that during his recruitment, coach Pete Carroll went to Trojan great and former Heisman Trophy winner Mike Garrett and told him he had to allow his No. 20 to be unretired so Bing would come to USC.

And when Bush was in New York picking up the Heisman Trophy last December, with fellow first-round prospect LenDale White along on the trip, Carroll put Bing with the first-team offense at running back. Carroll was considering asking him to move there for the 2006 season, but Bing chose to leave school early to enter the draft.

''He's such a natural athlete," Carroll said. ''He's able to come up with the right decision and knows how to make his plays when the time comes. That's what allowed him to look so good so early [Bing was a starter as a freshman] 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."

The Patriots' roster currently is stacked with eight safeties, though there are question marks, with Rodney Harrison and Guss Scott each coming off major knee surgery, James Sanders coming off an injury-plagued rookie season, and Artrell Hawkins looking to hang onto a spot after being converted from cornerback at midseason. The team added free agents Tebucky Jones, a former Patriot, and Mel Mitchell, a special teams standout.

There is always room on the roster for a top cornerback. Starters Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs return, and the Patriots picked up free agent Eric Warfield. But for the second time in two years, injuries at the position forced the team to turn to receiver Troy Brown to play defense.

Cornerback probably tops linebacker as the most loaded position in this year's draft, with some observers listing as many as seven corners as first-round caliber, and that's not including Michael Huff of Texas, a safety who could be converted to corner.

Part of the lovefest with cornerbacks this year is the speed factor.

Huff, Tye Hill (Clemson), and Johnathan Joseph (South Carolina) have all posted blazing sub-4.4 40s.

Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams, who sports a 4.50 40, is regarded by many as the most skilled cornerback available. He should be the second defensive back off the board, following Huff, and ahead of Tennessee free safety Jason Allen, Hill, Joseph, Ashton Youboty (Ohio State), and cornerback Antonio Cromartie of Florida State. Safety Donte Whitner of Ohio State is another first-round possibility.

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