USC LB Eric Gentry working to make the routine play just as often as the flash play
It’s hard to make the argument Eric Gentry is breaking out in fall camp for the Trojans. He was a Freshman All-American and a regular on the Arizona State defense last season. But Gentry is certainly standing out. And not just because of his 6-foot-6 frame in the middle of the defense.
“He’s difficult to get the ball over,” said Caleb Williams after practice earlier this week. “I’m glad we have him on our team.”
And he’ll be glad when the games start for real and Gentry can start picking off the opposing quarterback. The second-year inside linebacker grabbed an interception in the team’s second scrimmage. He drew some praise from head coach Lincoln Riley for his play. Riley called Gentry’s combination of length and athleticism rare for an inside linebacker.
USC has him listed at 200 pounds. He’ll continue to grow into his frame as he progresses in his college career. But…
“A lot of people were shocked by how physical I am,” Gentry said this week.
The length helps him see over the line, get into passing lanes to disrupt timing and throws, but, in his second season, Gentry is working to understand it’s not just about his physical tools. He said he was playing off instinct last season with the Sun Devils. The mental piece is what USC’s coaches are harping on in camp now.
“One of the biggest areas is going to be being able to identify how to execute throughout a practice and how to sustain that execution and that energy level and that focus,” inside ‘backers coach Brian Odom said. “That’s been the biggest thing with him, getting over that hump where, you know, you can make some flash plays, but what’s the next play you can make? Is it the routine play that we expect you to make? Are you fitting the right gap? Are you making the right calls? Are you getting the guys lined up?
“There’s a lot of people who are talented and can make the flash plays, but a lot of those talented guys kinda fall off when you need the routine plays to be made. That’s going to be something that’s going to make him a tremendous linebacker here, not only the flash plays and the things that open your eyes to the athlete he is, but also the routine plays that go unnoticed.”
Gentry says he feels confident in USC’s defense, though he didn’t have a spring period with the team to get acclimated.
“We’ve pushed the envelope in terms of him getting reps and trying to force feed him those reps,” Odom said. “He brings a different element, for sure. When he can get on the same page as these guys – which he’s improving every day on the mental aspect of it – I’m excited about his future.”
Asked about his role, Gentry simply said he wants to be a “dynamic playmaker” and a smarter defender.
Where he’ll play — he said he’d line up at corner if the staff asked — is still getting sorted out. USC has Shane Lee and Ralen Goforth in the room as well, and Odom said this week he isn’t yet sure who’s going to start. But it feels like a given after the camp he’s had that Gentry will be a fixture on the Trojans’ defense this season in some way, shape, or form.