LOS ANGELES — During USC’s first scrimmage of training camp, quarterback Caleb Williams made a small but fatal mistake on a play.
As he lined up for the snap, he did not take into account the personnel that had just come onto the field. Namely, he didn’t realize that 6-foot-6 inside linebacker Eric Gentry was across from him.
So when Williams tried to throw the ball to his receiver, it wound up in the outstretched arms of Gentry.
“He’s difficult to get the ball over,” Williams said after practice Wednesday. “I’m glad we have him on our team.”
Even in a sea of cardinal helmets, Gentry has been hard to miss at USC camp. He is the tallest member of the defense, but at 200 pounds has fully filled out his frame. And he stands four inches taller than any other member of the inside linebacker unit.
Needless to say, it’s a little unorthodox for a player of his size to play his position, but Gentry feels like it gives him certain advantages.
“See over the line. Go at different pass lanes. Disrupt different passes. Get off blocks easily,” Gentry said Wednesday. “Just try to be mentally understanding that it’s not only about my length and everything and speed, just bringing physicality and a lot of people were shocked by how physical I am with different stuff.”
Gentry is new to USC, even by the standards of many of the imports at the start of the Lincoln Riley era. He transferred to USC after spending his freshman year at Arizona State, and spring practice had already ended.
Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch sold Gentry on their ability to use his dynamic athleticism to their advantage. He was also drawn to USC’s history, and a fresh start amid the tumult in Tempe.
So fall camp represented Gentry’s first real opportunity to play within the USC system. Even through 10 practices, linebackers coach Brian Odom was impressed last week with how much Gentry was picking up.
“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.”
Gentry comes with some positive experiences from his time at ASU. He was a consensus Freshman All-American after recording 45 tackles in 10 games, starting the final three of the season.
He still has more to learn, and Odom spoke on Wednesday about wanting to see more consistency from the sophomore as he digests the defense.
But even still, as USC has scrimmaged and practiced this fall, Gentry has made an impression, and not just due to his height.
“His length and playmaking ability and nose for the ball really stick out, they do,” Riley said last week. “He’s just rare to have a guy on your defense that has that type of length but also that type of athleticism. I mean, you love it defensively. You love his instincts and he’s getting more comfortable in our system, making less mistakes each day.”