Draft Dose: Linebacker U.

Posted Feb. 21, 2011 @ 11:19 a.m.
Posted By Andrew Struckmeyer

Over the years, Penn State has developed a reputation for being "Linebacker U." Hall of Famer Jack Ham played at State College in the late 1960s before playing a key role on the Steelers' Super Bowl teams, Greg Buttle was a force during the early '70s before being a standout for the Jets, and recently a new generation of star-studded linebackers has come up through the ranks. LaVar Arrington ushered in this new wave of 'backers in late 1990s, before going on to star in the NFL with the Redskins. In the sixth installment of the Draft Dose series, we look back at some of the most recent 'backers who continue to uphold the tradition of "Linebacker U." in the order in which they entered the league.

Tamba Hali, Chiefs

After playing as a defensive end at Penn State, Hali has made his mark as a pass-rushing outside 'backer in Kansas City's 3-4 scheme. Drafted in the first round by the Chiefs in 2006, Hali has started all 79 games in which he has played, missing only one game in 2008. Hali's stock really rose this past season as he recorded an AFC-best 14½ sacks and was named a Pro Bowler for the first time.

Cameron Wake, Dolphins

Wake went undrafted coming out of Penn State, where he played mostly linebacker, but also dabbled at defensive end. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, but still ended up in the Canadian Football League to start his career in 2007, after being out of football entirely in '06. Playing for the BC Lions, Wake led the CFL in sacks in both '07 and '08 before going to the Dolphins and signing the richest contract ever for a CFL-to-NFL transfer. Moving into the starting lineup for Miami in '10, Wake made the Pro Bowl, recording 14 sacks as an outside linebacker in the Dolphins' 3-4 scheme.

Paul Posluszny, Bills

A second-round pick by Buffalo in 2007, Posluszny has started every game in which he has played the past three seasons. After posting 110 tackles in ’08 and 111 tackles in '09, Posluszny broke out with 151 in '10. He is a building block on a young Bills team who should flourish under the tutelage of the team's new LB coach Dave Wannstedt.

Dan Connor, Panthers

A third-round pick of the Panthers in 2008, Connor played in all 16 games in 2009 before moving into the starting lineup in '10. Connor started eight games, recording 47 tackles and one sack, before a hip injury landed him on injured reserve. He looks to be a big piece of the rebuilding effort for the Panthers under new head coach Ron Rivera.

Sean Lee, Cowboys

A second-round pick of the Cowboys in 2010, Lee played in 14 games, mainly on special teams. However, the former Nittany Lion made his presence felt when he intercepted Colts QB Peyton Manning twice, returning one pick 31 yards for a touchdown. Lee's pick-six helped the Cowboys score a 38-35 victory at Indianapolis.

NaVorro Bowman, 49ers

A third-round pick of the 49ers in 2010, Bowman got off to a slow start in training camp but came on strong to play in all 16 games for San Francisco. Bowman even started the final game of the season, and recorded eight tackles in a 38-7 win over the Cardinals. Along with star LB Patrick Willis, Bowman should be part of a solid LB corps for new head coach Jim Harbaugh.