USC's Green Is Making Up for Lost Time : This Season, Tight End Hopes He's Able Put His Injuries Behind Him

Times Staff Writer

Paul Green doesn't necessarily believe that a receiver should be applauded for making a tough catch.

After all, the USC tight end reasons, that's what he's supposed to do.

Green, on his best days, has made difficult catches in practice seem routine, such as the time he caught a ball behind his back without breaking stride.

Even though he might have been all-world in practice, Green hasn't always been able to showcase his talent in games.

The 6-foot 3-inch, 220-pounder from Clovis, Calif., has been hampered by ankle injuries since he came to USC in 1984.

He was USC's designated H-back, or tight end in motion, as a sophomore in 1985. However, he suffered a severely sprained ankle in the fourth game and was redshirted the rest of the season.

Last year, his ankle problems kept him out of the first game and some practices, but he still managed to catch 12 passes for 158 yards, a 13.2-yard average.

Green attributes about half of his ankle injuries to basketball, a recreation that Coach Larry Smith isn't fond of, considering that tailback Steven Webster damaged ligaments in his left ankle the past summer in a pickup game and is still on the mend.

"I was hurt last year coming into camp from playing basketball in the summer," Green said. "In fact, I've been in a cast every year since the eighth grade because of ankle injuries."

As USC's new coach, Smith issued an ultimatum to the effect that he didn't want his players participating in pickup basketball games. Webster didn't heed that admonishment, but Green got the message.

"I paid attention to it, and it was about time," he said. "I didn't play basketball last summer. I stuck to golf."

USC doesn't have a tight end in motion in Smith's system, so Green is just the regular starting tight end. He says that he's in good shape and, if his ankle problems don't flare up again, he might play to the high expectations that coaches have had for him.

For sure, he's one of the team's best athletes. He has filled in as a punter, even surprising Arizona State with a third-down, 58-yard kick last year, and has the speed for deep routes.

Green, who, in appearance, could be a stereotyped, tanned California surfer, even though he isn't, admitted that he had lost some confidence in himself.

"In high school (Clovis West) if I dropped a pass in practice, even one-handed, it would wreck my whole day.

"Then, in 1985 and last year I dropped some passes and I really got down and started to doubt myself. Just now I'm getting my confidence back."

Green doesn't believe that he should ever drop a pass.

"You know how someone will go sky-high and make a two-handed catch and people will say, 'Great catch, great catch.' Well, that's what you're supposed to do."

USC's tight ends have been traditionally blocker types, with their pass catching limited to short-yardage, possession catches over the middle.

Green made three such catches for 20 yards in the season-opening, 27-13 loss to Michigan State Sept. 7.

It wouldn't be surprising, though, if Green stretches the defense Saturday in USC's home opener against Boston College at the Coliseum.

"There are patterns to go deep for the tight end," he said. "We have a lot of reads and it depends on the coverage. Some are on the outside and some up the middle."

Green said that USC's offensive scheme is more complicated than it was under the previous coaching staff.

"As far as the tight end position goes, we didn't have any reads at all. If we were out on a pattern, we were simply out on a pattern.

"Now, as we release on our routes, we have to look at defensive people to see what the coverage is. If they're in one coverage, we run one route, or, if they're in a different coverage, we run a different route."

That means that quarterbacks Rodney Peete and Kevin McLean have to be alert in order to read what the receivers see.

Green played tight end and safety at Clovis, which is near Fresno, and was an all-North Yosemite League forward in basketball and was a pitcher on the baseball team.

"Basketball was my favorite sport," he said, "and, although I could have played for some smaller schools, there is no way I could have played for a school like USC. You know, too small for a forward and not quick enough for a guard."

Green's mother, Carol, is a native of Samoa, and he has an older brother, Mike Green, who was a walk-on tailback for Brigham Young last year until he severely damaged his skull in an intramural game. He also has a stepbrother, Mike Pace, who is a wide receiver for Fresno State.

Green was disappointed about losing to Michigan State but not depressed.

"I feel that we're going to be a good team," he said. "Even though we couldn't run that well because they had a good run defense, we moved the ball up and down the field. Turnovers hurts us."

In comparing the previous coaching staff to the present one, Green said:

"This staff works you harder, makes you hustle. Everything is go, go, go all the time. It's great, and I think they're real honest. As for Coach Smith, he doesn't have much sympathy for injuries."

Green said that the team wasn't as close as it should have been in previous years, and Smith is trying to remedy that attitude.

"Most of the time I've been here, I'd look around in the huddle and there wasn't that look in the players' eyes that we have to get going. Instead, it was a look like we're getting beat and here we go again. That bothers me and it's frustrating.

"I think this staff has brought in a little more will-to-win outlook by bringing the team closer together. We have a lot of team activities together."

Green regards the Raiders' Todd Christensen as the prototype tight end and notes significantly that they have the same height and weight, 6-3 and 220 pounds.

"He's a great blocker and makes catches in traffic," Green said, adding, "but that's what a tight end should do."

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