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2006 Football Review - The Linebackers

In 2005 the Nittany Lions arguably had the best linebackers in the Big Ten. Going into 2006 there was no doubt they were. Posluszny, Connor, and Tim Shaw all returned. The coaches could have left well enough alone and been content to field the same linebackers as last year. But waiting in the wings were three linebackers good enough to start on most other teams in the country. So to get more of this talent on the field the coaches made some changes. Tim Shaw was moved to defensive end. Paul Posluszny moved to middle linebacker. And sophomore Sean Lee was named the starting weak side linebacker.

Paul Posluszny by all accounts had a fantastic year. Coming off of a difficult off season of knee rehabilitation and a position change it took a few games for Poz to settle in. Many people said he looked a step slow in his bulky knee brace. But by mid season he was back to reading formations, stuffing holes, and knocking quarterbacks on their butts. He nearly single handedly won the Illinois game when he forced Illini quarterback Juice Williams to fumble the ball into the hands of Tony Davis who walked into the endzone. And against Temple when Anthony Morelli threw an interception on the first series of the game giving the Owls excellent field position, Poz came back on the next play forcing a fumble and getting the ball right back.

Paul was named First Team All-Big Ten. He has been named a finalist for the Lott, Butkus, Bednarik, and Lombardi awards. He walked off the field in Beaver Stadium for the final time with 108 tackles, 3 sacks, and the career record for tackles in a Penn State uniform. It's hard to imagine anyone ever having a better season.

While Dan Connor wasn't as flashy as Poz, he was probably more consistent over the course of the season. Poz is a play maker that steps up and takes over a game when the time is right. Connor is the steady rock. Always in position, never missing a tackle, never getting fooled. Dan finished with 103 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT, and 3 forced fumbles. The last two games of the season he played with a broken wrist. He was twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and finished the season with Second Team All-Big Ten honors. Along with Poz he was named a finalist for the Bednarik award.

For the third straight season the Lions had a sophomore linebacker experience a breakout season. In 2004 it was Poz. In 2005 it was Connor. 2006 was Sean Lee's turn. Lee hung with his upperclassmen superstars statistically with 83 tackles and 3 sacks despite being pulled off the field in favor of the nickel defense. He also showed nimble feet against Northwestern catching a running interception along the sideline and tapping both feet inbounds. Do you still need proof of Lee's greatness? Consider this. It's because of Sean Lee that Tim Shaw was forced to play defensive end and Poz was moved to middle linebacker.

It's hard to imagine any group of linebackers playing better than these three guys. We expected this group to be the strength of the defense and I gave them an A+ in my preseason evaluation. By my preseason review I downgraded them to an A because I had not anticipated the position changes before the season and Poz did look a step slow while adjusting to his new position. But now the season is over I'm bumping them back to an A+.