There is little that Hayes Pullard did not experience during his time years at USC.
Originally recruited by Pete Carroll, who left for the NFL and Seattle before Pullard could suit up in Cardinal and Gold, Pullard played under three head coaches – Lane Kiffin, Ed Odgeron and Steve Sarkisian – and four defensive coordinators. (Sounds like he would have been right at home a few years ago with the Cleveland Browns.)
There is also one other thing the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Pullard did at USC – he performed.
Pullard was a four-year starter at USC at inside linebacker, earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2014 after leading the Trojans in tackles with 95. He was the first USC defender since Dennis Johnson in 1977-79 to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons, and finished his college career with 377 tackles.
Despite everything he accomplished at USC, many draft experts did not think highly of Pullard, a fact that he says will be a motivator when he arrives at training camp this summer.
“I just fell into those tackles all four years?” Pullard said on the Browns’ website. “I don’t know how that could happen, but you can only accept criticism, prove everybody wrong, continue to get better and be a peak performer.”
Pullard wrote a letter to NFL general managers prior to the draft for The Players’ Tribune website where he let teams know he doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him at the NFL level, a trait that should endear him to Cleveland fans:
“I understand I’m going to start off playing special teams. I have every intention of making plays in that role. The Pac-12 is all about speed and being able to cover open space, and the same could be said of covering kicks on a special teams unit. I want to become a standout in that capacity and expand my role on the team from there.”
To learn a bit more about the Browns’ seventh-round selection, 219th overall selection pick the 2015 NFL Draft, we reached out to Alicia de Artola at Reign of Troy for a four-question Q&A on Pullard.
Question: What are the Browns getting in Pullard?
Alicia: You don’t start four years at USC without bringing something special to the table. As the draft gurus have pointed out, Pullard lacks the size and elite athleticism you would want from an NFL starting linebacker. However, he has instincts which have carried him this far.
He knows how to diagnose plays and gets in position to snuff out trouble. He’ll never be the player who stands out in big ways, but he’ll do the little things right
Question: Is he physical enough to play on defense, or is he more of a special teams player at the NFL level?
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Alicia: Pullard himself has said he aims to establish himself as a special teams contributor and that may indeed be his ceiling in the NFL. Still, he is not without a physical presence.
He is capable of laying out hits, dealing with blocks, and being a part of the physical side of the game. The question is whether that capability will rise to NFL levels. Only he can answer that as his career progresses.
Question: After everything he’s been through on a personal level, and at USC, is there anything the NFL can throw at him that Pullard hasn’t already dealt with?
Alicia: The only thing that the NFL could throw at Pullard at this point is the knowledge that he has reached his level. Having starred and started his whole life as a football player, can he really handle being a special teams player and back up?
He says he’s ready to work his way up the food chain. Now he needs to do it.
Question: What is one thing about Pullard that Browns fans are going to love?
Alicia: Pullard is a natural leader and he has always been that. More than anything, Pullard’s relentless commitment to the game and his team sets him apart.
What role do you see Hayes Pullard playing with the Browns?