Throughout the offseason, the Chicago Bears have been actively scouting linebacker prospects in this year's draft. The club has been linked to all of the early round LBs – Manti Te'o, Alec Ogletree and Arthur Brown – yet Bears brass are also interested in linebacker in the middle and later rounds. Not only does the team want a young defender it can develop into a productive player on defense but linebackers typically make solid special teams contributors as well.
Bear Report has identified one player in whom, we are told, the Bears are showing serious interest: Howard's Keith Pough. Let's go to the film to analyze this small-school prospect.
Arms: 33.5 inches
Hands: 9.5 inches
40-Yard Dash: 4.90
Bench Press: 17 reps
Vertical Jump: 33 inches
Broad Jump: 118 inches
3-Cone Drill: 7.28 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.47 seconds
Pough is a chase linebacker. He's at his best moving down the line to catch ball carriers from behind. He always has his head in the backfield and does a good job working his way through the trash. When locked up with opposing linemen, he's very active in fighting off blocks. His change-of-direction ability is outstanding and he has very good closing speed.
Blitzing is what Pough does best. He was used as an edge rusher constantly and has the ability to dip his shoulder and turn the corner. When blitzing up the middle, he does a good job staying skinny and fitting through tiny seams.
Pough is a smart player who is always in the right place. He reads plays well and is an active leader on the field. Against MEAC competition, he was a man among boys.
Of all the film available of Pough, the most prudent tape to watch is last year's contest against Rutgers. It was the only game in which Howard competed against BCS competition.
In that game Pough was very effective and was the leading tackler on the team, but his weaknesses stood out. He was too easily locked up at the point of attack when plays were run at him. Far too often, he was flat pushed out of the play. He used active hands to fight off blocks but his lack of strength didn't allow him to disengage.
In open space, Pough must learn to break down better. He's too often out of control when approaching ball carriers, which can lead to some awful missed tackles. He also didn't show much pop in his hits and got most of his tackles by dragging down runners.
In coverage, Pough is a bit stiff in the hips and doesn't show ideal awareness. He can look lost at times.
Pough earned a lot of accolades during his collegiate career, which includes being named 2012 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. During his three years as a starter for the Bisons, he picked up 83 tackles for loss, which as an all-time FCS record.
Pough is rough around the edges. His ability as a blitzer, combined with his relatively lean frame, might make him a better fit for a 3-4. In a 4-3, he could have success at WILL, but he's not a good fit for SAM or MIKE. But on the weak side, where he wouldn't have to be stout at the point of attack, he has a lot of potential.
There are definitely concerns with his athleticism. He was slow at the combine (4.90 40-yard dash) and posted just 17 reps in the bench press – less than Shea McClellin's 19 reps. That lack of ideal strength and speed reduces his ceiling. Basically, what you see is what you get, although that's not all that bad. Pough has functional playing speed and is always around the ball, so the 40 time is a bit misleading.
At the East-West Shrine Game, Pough was one of the most impressive players during both the game and the week of practices, demonstrating speed, aggression and intelligence.
Still, the Rutgers tape showed a lot of flaws, making one wonder if he can handle the bigger, faster and more athletic competition he'll face in the NFL. As a special teams player, Pough can be very good but he's got a long road ahead of him if he's ever going to play defense at the next level.
Pough is currently projected as a fifth, sixth or seventh-round pick. If he's available in the sixth, the Bears will give him strong consideration as a special teams player with the potential for more.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.