USC takeaways: Biggest surprises from Trojans’ preseason camp

USC linebacker Tackett Curtis runs on the field during a spring football practice

USC linebacker Tackett Curtis has impressed teammates as formidable defensive leader during preseason camp.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

As USC’s linebackers cycled through tackling drills at the start of Wednesday’s practice, Eric Gentry walked the sideline like a tightrope, biding his time. The inside linebacker had been limited since the start of camp while dealing with the same ankle injury that hampered him last season.

His limited participation in camp, along with the injury absence of Shane Lee at the same position, might have inspired panic at this same point last year.

But that’s where Captain America swoops in.

“Captain America” is Tackett Curtis, the Trojans’ hyped freshman linebacker whose arrival at USC already has folks equating him with the first Avenger. No other freshman has quite generated Marvel-caliber buzz during camp.

“Tackett Curtis, oh my goodness,” said running back MarShawn Lloyd. “Tackett is amazing.”

“If I had to call him something, he’s a destroyer,” added Caleb Williams.

“I’ve been around a lot of freshmen the past couple years,” rush end Jamil Muhammad said, “and they don’t come quite like him.”

That doesn’t mean Curtis is a finished product just yet. He’s still learning the scheme, still sharpening his technique. But there’s been no hesitation on his part as he’s been thrown into the mix at inside linebacker.

That position is deeper than it used to be. But if Gentry and Lee aren’t ready to go by next Saturday, Captain America may be thrust into action right away.