Penn State has produced a lot of great linebackers. But Paul Posluszny is the best. At least that's what Jack Ham says.
That's the same Jack Ham who was an All-American linebacker at Penn State, who went to eight Pro Bowls, won four Super Bowls and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It was definitely a bold statement on his part," Posluszny said of Ham. "I was very excited that he thought of me in that way. I'll definitely do my part to work as hard as I can to fulfill his expectations."
If Ham is right, the Buffalo Bills got quite a steal. Posluszny (pronounced Pos-luz-nee) was expected to be selected in the first round, but lasted until the second round (34th overall) of the draft. That isn't too bad because Ham was also a second-rounder and the 34th selection in the 1971 draft.
The Bills were glad Posluszny was still on the board. They quickly worked out a trade with Detroit to get him.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno compared Posluszny's intense, instinctive playing style to Shane Conlan, who went to the Bills with the eighth overall pick in 1987.
Posluszny changed his jersey number to 31 in reverence to Conlan after his freshman year and will move on to the team where Conlan was the NFL rookie of the year and played in three of the Bills' four Super Bowl appearances in the early 1990s.
"It's definitely ironic, especially after all the comparisons at Penn State," said Posluszny, who works out with Conlan at the same YMCA. "And now I go to the team that he played for. It's funny that it worked out that way, but I like it that way. I'm definitely happy about it. I'm happy with the way things worked out and I know it's going to be a great situation."
Drafting Posluszny brought back memories for Bills General Manager Marv Levy, who was Buffalo's head coach when Conlan was drafted.
"Tom [Assistant General Manager Modrak] and I were talking about it a little bit and he said, 'Hey, that's setting the bar pretty high isn't it?' " Levy said. "But there are tremendous correlations and similarities. Guys from the same Linebacker U, and high character. In my second year we drafted Shane, and that was the beginning of our sharp upswing. We hope this helps contribute to it, too."
It's debatable whether Posluszny is the best linebacker out of Penn State, but he was the most productive. The two-time winner of the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player led the Nittany Lions in tackles the last three seasons and set a school career record with 372 tackles. He was the first junior team captain since 1968.
He played this season at middle linebacker after spending most of his career on the strong side.
"I have been able to play both and I am comfortable at both," said Posluszny, who is from Aliquippa, Pa., which is also the hometown of guys named Joe Montana, Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett. "Depending on the scheme and wherever you get a chance to make the most plays, that's where I want to be at."
Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn was available, but the Bills were never tempted to take him with the 12th overall pick. Not with starter J.P. Losman and backup Craig Nall on the roster.
"Not that we don't have a high regard for him. We do," Levy said of Quinn. "But we feel good about J.P. We didn't feel like we needed some first-round guy to shake up the Pepsi-Cola bottle."
In honor of the Virginia Tech tragedy, former Bills and Hokies great Bruce Smith announced the team's first-round selection. But not before some instructions from Levy.
"I talked to Bruce [Friday] and I told him, 'Do not say "With the first pick, the Buffalo Bills take Bruce Smith," ' " Levy cracked.