Draft Exclusive 9: Tackling Machine

With A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop working under new contracts, the Packers might not need an inside linebacker. Still, they used one of their Combine interviews on this player whose worst game of the season was nine tackles.

Even if the Green Bay Packers part ways with Nick Barnett, they'll have a logjam at inside linebacker.

A.J. Hawk recently signed a contract to keep him in Green Bay through 2015 and Desmond Bishop inked an extension to lock him up through 2014. Brandon Chillar, signed through 2013, is a valuable backup.

That doesn't mean the Packers aren't keeping their options open. They used one of their 60 formal interviews at the Scouting Combine on Washington tackling machine Mason Foster, a source told Packer Report.

Foster, who also met with the Packers at the Senior Bowl, finished second in the nation in solo tackles per game (8.08) in 2010, giving him the Pac 10-leading total in two of his final three seasons. His 163 total tackles were the most by a Washington defender in 23 years. He was the defensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl, with 12 tackles, three tackles for losses and two sacks against Nebraska. He posted a career-high 18 tackles against Stanford. His season-low total was nine against Cal — a fine game for most players.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder figures to be no worse than a Day 2 selection, as either an inside linebacker in a 3-4 or an outside linebacker in a 4-3.

"It's just my instincts," Foster said at the Scouting Combine in explaining his outlandish production. "I've played linebacker my whole life and I've got real good instincts. I watched film a lot. We had a lot of older players — Donald Butler and Roy Lewis — who taught me that if you watch film, you can take care of half your stuff before the ball is even snapped. It put me ahead of the game a little bit."

Foster played plenty of coverage during his career but blitzed more as a senior, either coming off the edge or roaming just off the line and hitting a gap. It paid off, as he posted a career-high 6.5 sacks after notching four in his first three seasons. He also forced eight fumbles during his final two seasons.

"It was something I focused on," Foster said of forcing fumbles. "Coming in as the second guy, I was taught to always strip. Anytime I was coming close to the ball, I was always reaching for it. Sooner or later, it just became a habit."

Foster led all defenders with eight tackles at the Senior Bowl. He kept the momentum going at the Combine, clocked as fast as 4.65 seconds in the 40, giving him the range to make plays all over the field. That athleticism, combined with the aforementioned film study and natural instincts, equate to a productive player who has flown under the radar during the draft process because he's not viewed as a big-time pass rusher. Plus, he's solid in coverage and a standout on special teams.

All of those could make him a target if the Packers are concerned about Chillar's shoulder after season-ending surgery.

"I think I have the intangibles to play either outside (in a 4-3) or inside (in a 3-4)," he said. "I've shown blitzing, I'm shown playing stick-defense. I feel like either way I'll come in and play as hard as I can to help the team. It's always a good thing to be versatile."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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