INDIANAPOLIS — Paul Posluszny
can't stop laughing.
It is a nervous, respectful cackle but telling nonetheless as the Penn State linebacker engages with the media during the NFL scouting combine.
Posluszny — nicknamed "Poz" — has been reminded of that
Jack Ham has said Posluszny is Penn State's greatest linebacker.
Live up to that, kid.
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: Top draft prospects at linebacker
When it comes to linebacker lineage, Penn State is no Slippery Rock.
Like Posluszny, former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowler Shane Conlan was a two-time All-American for the Nittany Lions.
, drafted No. 2 overall by the Washington Redskins in 2000, won the Chuck Bednarik and
Dick Butkus awards as college football's best defensive player and linebacker, respectively, while at Penn State. Posluszny won both awards in 2005 and took the Bednarik home in 2006, too.
Andre Collins, who played in the NFL for 10 years, was another All-American in State College, Pa. And before Posluszny came along, Greg Buttle, a longtime member of the New York Jets, had the school record for career tackles.
Then there's Ham, Penn State Class of '70. He went on to four Super Bowl championships with the Pittsburgh Steelers and wound up with a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It's no wonder they call it Linebacker U.
Ham's assessment has taken on a life of its own, following Posluszny to the draft process like his measurables (6-2, 238), sterling résumé and that X-ray from his once-injured right knee.
That it comes from such a credible source gives it long legs.
"When I heard it, I was in shock," Posluszny says. "When you think of Jack Ham, he's immortal. For him to make a comment like that … I was just extremely honored."
The laugh comes when Posluszny is asked if he believes Ham is right.
"No, I don't," he says. "There's a long list of great guys from Penn State."
A few minutes later, away from the pack, Posluszny is given a vote of his own. "It's Jack Ham," he says. "He's
the greatest linebacker ever from Penn State."
Keep in mind his "vote" is based on hearsay, reputation and history books.
Posluszny was born in 1984, about 14 years after Ham's final college game.
"Hey, he voted for me," Posluszny says. Then he laughs again.
Deep down, Posluszny, projected as a mid- to late first-rounder, knows hype and comparisons will not buy him much on the next level. When someone asks which NFL linebackers he resembles, the Poz knows better than to go there.
"I can't say, 'Yeah, I play like this guy,' because I haven't made it yet," he says. "In a couple of years, hopefully, I'll be able to say something, but it's too early to tell."
With book smarts that allowed him to graduate early with a degree in finance and a 3.57 grade-point average, Posluszny has common sense, too.
This doesn't mean he doesn't have his favorites. His eyes light up when New England Patriots linebackers Tedy Bruschi
and Mike Vrabel
are mentioned. When he studies pros, he pops in videotapes of middle linebackers Zach Thomas
, Brian Urlacher
and Ray Lewis
Fitting, considering Posluszny made the switch to middle linebacker for his senior year and duplicated the All-America honors he earned while playing outside.
"Something I really appreciate is how they work in tandem with others," he says. "You can't talk about Urlacher unless you recognize how well he plays with Lance Briggs
. Ray Lewis
has Bart Scott
next to him. That's a key, meshing with other players."
No doubt the move inside last season, with all of its extra traffic and blockers coming from more angles, helped Posluszny's stock. Although NFLDraftScout.com rates him as the top outside linebacker in the draft, versatility provides options, given the various schemes and situational packages used by NFL teams.
"Switching inside last season didn't hurt him," says Matt Millen, the Detroit Lions president and a 12-year NFL linebacker who was also schooled at Penn State. "It takes a knack for knowing how to move in there."
In Millen's eyes, that's the real beauty of Posluszny's game — instincts all great linebackers need.
"The best thing he does is find the football," Millen says. "He's got great instincts. You are going to find guys who are faster, guys who are stronger and guys who will make flashier plays. But he's very consistent at a high level. He knows how to play the game."
Posluszny finished the 2006 season with 116 tackles, including 69 solo stops, and set the school mark with 372 career tackles. Perhaps more important, he used a strong senior year to convince himself and NFL teams his knee was sound after he suffered slightly torn ligaments while leaping over a blocker in the fourth quarter of Penn State's Orange Bowl victory against Florida State in January 2006.
Had Posluszny not suffered the setback, it's likely he would have entered last year's draft. Instead, he embarked on a rehabilitation process — "long and boring," he says — that ensured a rebound without needing surgery.
"It's two different worlds," he says, comparing his readiness for the NFL this year compared to the end of his junior year. "Last year if I would have come out … I was a little young and light. It's a lot better that I'm here as a senior."