Man in the Middle: Tim Shaw Feature

Tim Shaw knows he's not the talk of central Pennsylvania. He knows he's not going to grace magazine covers as Penn State's football season approaches. He knows he won't be talk-radio fodder. When you play alongside blue-chip linebackers like Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, you harbor no illusions.

“Those guys are Pa. guys, they're big-time recruits,” Shaw said. “I need to be on that level, and I feel like I am on that level. I don't want to be the weak link.”

Shaw is slated to start at middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions this fall, a position at which he made seven starts last season before a run of injuries, coupled with Connor's rapid development, put him on the sideline. He may also contribute on offense. Shaw has practiced at the H-back position this spring in a move that surprised many in the Penn State football community, Shaw included.

So while he might not be one of the Nittany Lions' most recognizable names, he hasn't exactly been shunted off to obscurity, either. When asked if he felt unappreciated next to his heralded teammates, Shaw dismissed the question. Said the Livonia, Mich., native: “I look at where we are. Pa. people like Pa. people. Those guys are from around here.”

What Pennsylvania football fans like most of all are linebackers who make dozens of tackles. A year ago, Posluszny had 104 stops. Connor had 85. Numbers such as those tend to create tremendous goodwill.

Shaw figures to be much improved this fall. He made 50 tackles and had an interception and five pass break-ups as a redshirt sophomore, but it was only his first season of active duty at linebacker and as such was a learning experience. He began his college career at tailback after rushing for more than 2,600 yards as a senior at Clarenceville High, then redshirted as a sophomore while adjusting to the move to defense.

Now that he has a season of experience behind him, he appears better prepared to start.

“He's doing a lot better from a technique standpoint,” said Posluszny, who will team with Connor at outside linebacker with Shaw returning to the inside linebacker post. “He's gotten better, more confident and more comfortable playing in middle. Last year was his first year at linebacker, and it's a difficult transition. Now he's more experienced and he's doing really well for us.”

Shaw's season began to unravel in October when he suffered two bothersome ankle injuries. He first injured his ankle at Minnesota. Connor came on in relief the following week against Purdue and made a team-high 10 tackles.

Shaw returned to the starting lineup for Iowa's visit to Beaver Stadium. But against Ohio State a week later, he sprained his other ankle. He wasn't the same after his health began to deteriorate.

“It slowed me down like crazy, and my biggest asset is my speed,” Shaw said. “That gave Dan a chance to play, and he played well, so that kept me off the field.”

Indeed, Connor was a revelation. He enjoyed a dazzling freshman season, ranking second on the team in tackles and serving notice that he will likely be a force for Penn State for the next three years.

Shaw figures he can be an impact player as well, possibly on both sides of the ball. He was initially blindsided by the news that the coaches wanted to try him out on offense. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden approached him during winter conditioning and told him that he would be working with offensive coordinator Galen Hall that day.

“I was like, 'What!?' I was confused. I thought it was going to be a switch, and I thought they were crazy,” Shaw said. “But they told me they thought I could stretch out the defense, so they eased me into it.”

He is working out mostly at linebacker this spring. When the coaches need Shaw on offense, they summon him from the other side of the practice field.

“It's just a few packages,” he said. “I'm happy to help out if they think I can help over there. They're keeping it simple, so I don't have to worry about it too much. They call me over, and I try to catch the ball, try to make a block, no big deal.”

Shaw said he hasn't been able to make many plays on defense this spring, mostly because he has lacked the opportunity. Ball carriers who bounce to the outside are usually run down by Posluszny and Connor. Plays that go up the middle are often snuffed out by the line.

Even though he encountered some setbacks en route to the starting lineup, Shaw said he doesn't have any regrets about the way his career has gone. He doesn't dwell on his position change from tailback to linebacker, nor does he think back often to his redshirt year.

“I take that year as my journey, my learning year,” he said. “I grew up. I don't regret it because it worked out so well for me. ... Now I find myself here with two more seasons, and I've already started seven games. I feel like I'm in great position to excel.”

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