Nittany Notes: Reckless Play

There area of the PSU football team with the least amount of discussion, speculation and concern this preseason is the linebacking corps. That is not surprising considering the Lions have three veterans returning who are widely considered among the best in the country. But there have been some noteworthy developments at Linebacker U. Read on to see what they are.

With the return of senior captain Paul Posluszny, along with Tim Shaw and Dan Connor, Penn State football has one of the most formidable 'backer units in the nation. As one observer described the group, "These three have great instincts, but more importantly they have played together for so long they understand each other's abilties and tendencies. They feed off each other and make each other better. The word they love to use to describe themselves is 'reckless.' "

Posluszny "has been playing like he's been caged up," he's been "hitting hard — like he making up for lost snaps." Extremely vocal with the entire defense, Posluszny has been particularly focused on working with the younger linebackers as he has all off-season. "Whether on the field or in the weight room, he's determined to help these guys be prepared to step right in," another observer explained. "He's rough on them, but the smart ones know to listen to what he has to say — it's a major opportunity to learn from one of the best."

Posluszny's main protoges have been Sean Lee, Jerome Hayes, Dontey Brown and Tyrell Sales, and they are focusing on "form, function, reads and reactions. He is working on the details of their game to set them apart. They are all storng athletes, but he'll show them how to read the tendencies of a back to recognize where he's going before the snap."

Shaw has also been a major voice for the defense. Described as "another captain," Shaw is "always talking and pushing guys." He too has been working with the younger 'backers, "showing Jerome and Dontey how to play wide and step up into a hole. He's also been working their take-down technique."

"Shaw's 'push it' attitude has set the tone with the players. He doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves," according to an observer.

Shaw has been seeing the bulk of his reps inside with the first team, but has also been involved with playing some upright defensive end and switching between the DE and LB positions. Hayes continues to also see reps in that role and has worked extensively with Shaw to understand how to "read motions and shifts in the line."

Connor has "delivered some hits that make you wince, to guys like [Tony] Hunt and [Evan] Royster." As one observer explained, "I think Royster has learned a thing or two from Dan." Not as vocal as Shaw or Posluszny, Connor has adopted a "no-nonsense approach" to his practice. "He's more focused, more mature. I think the suspension (in 2004) made him a better player and person."

Hayes "has made great strides in the off-season" from a technique standpiint, though he still needs to "play off his toes and trust his instincts." His tackling technique is "impressive" and he "brings an aggression that has ball carriers think twice about heading in his direction."

Hayes squares his shoulders, lowers his pads and "delivers big blows," however, he needs to "hit lower and wrap up more."

Lee "plays faster than Hayes, but shares his aggression." As one observer opined, "I think they have a competition going as to who can play more crazy, more reckless, more intense. They are both pretty intimidating out there."

Fundamentally Lee is said to be ahead of Hayes, but he has to "control his speed, avoid overpursuits and play disciplined on every down. He's good, but he can get a lot better."

One linebacker who has made a "turnaround" is Brown, who has "improved on his consistency and is sharper on reads." Brown has seen second-team middle 'backer snaps through the preseason and is battling Hayes for the two-deep spot in the middle. Brown needs to work on his communication skills — making and calling his reads.

Sales is another player who has shown improvement this off-season. "Sales has always been pretty good on run defense, but has gotten better on defending the pass and knowing when to drop." Sales carries his 235 pound frame "well" but needs to "continue to work on his agility; getting up on those toes and bending his knees."


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