STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The list of Penn State linebackers who have gone on to star in the NFL reads like a who's who at the position - Jack Ham, Shane Conlan and LaVar Arrington, for starters.
Yet there's been a dry spell for Linebacker U. since 2000, when Arrington (Washington) and Brandon Short (New York Giants) were the last Nittany Lion linebackers to be drafted.
That streak appears over.
"It's been too long since a Penn State linebacker was taken," said Paul Posluszny, the school's career leading tackler. "Too long."
Posluszny almost certainly will be taken early at the draft Saturday. Another Linebacker U. graduate, Tim Shaw, is also on the wish lists of several NFL teams.
Ham calls Posluszny the greatest linebacker to play at Penn State. Coach Joe Paterno says he's a natural at the position. Many scouts target Posluszny as a mid to late first- round pick.
"One of those playoff teams will sit there and say, ‘Smart, tough, fairly instinctive, clean off the field,'" NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
Posluszny has sideline-to-sideline range and a fiery on-field demeanor. Off the field, he is a mild- mannered, straight-A student.
In the 2005 season, his helmet didn't fit right, butting against the bridge of his nose and creating a bloody gash by the end of a game. When he returned to the sideline, Posluszny would talk to his coaches like a Boy Scout.
During a tense moment against Ohio State two years ago, Posluszny approached defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and asked, "Coach Bradley, can I please ask you a question?"
Bradley replied: "I said, ‘You don't have to say please. Just ask it!'"
There were new challenges in 2006, including a knee injury in the Orange Bowl. Paterno then moved Posluszny from outside to inside linebacker during preseason.
Posluszny rebounded after a slow start to win a second straight Bednarik Award as the nation's best defensive player.
Still, Mayock said Posluszny lacks explosiveness and isn't as physically gifted as Green Bay's A.J. Hawk, who was drafted last year out of Ohio State.
Posluszny wants to improve his pass coverage, especially since Penn State has relied more on zone defenses. He and Shaw in recent weeks have worked on footwork, backpedaling and other maneuvers. It's on 40-yard dashes where Shaw gets the best of Posluszny.
"He's always a half-step in front of me," Posluszny said.
Shaw's speed and power drew notice at the NFL combine. But he, too, faces some questions after having played so many positions.
An elite high school running back in Michigan, Shaw took snaps at tailback his freshman year in 2002 before being redshirted. He played outside and inside linebacker in 2004 and 2005, then was shuttled into a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker role last season in which he primarily rushed the quarterback.
It wasn't exactly what Shaw had in mind when he came to Penn State, but he's turned that into a positive.
"Teams love the fact that I've learned it and done it," Shaw said. "Coming off the edge in a two-point stance. Did it with some technique, did it with some effort."
The attitude hasn't gone unnoticed by scouts.
"He took one for the team," Mayock said. "He helped Penn State become a better defense by moving to defensive end."
Most forecasts have Shaw going in the third or fourth rounds. He might get a shot to contribute right away on special teams as he adjusts to linebacker in the NFL.
However, don't expect Posluszny and Shaw to get big draft boosts because of their Linebacker U. pedigree. NFL coaches see Nittany Lions linebackers as players who "know what they're doing and know where they're going," Mayock said.
"You have to respect it," he said, "but not dwell on it."
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