Paul Posluszny has never been one to shy away from hard work. From his game film study habits and workout regiment, the Penn State linebacker readies himself for each week's game more than any college prospect in recent memory.
However, Posluszny has been a step slow to make a play at times this season after returning from multiple ligament damage to his right knee in last January's Orange Bowl. Team doctors had him wear a protective brace, which was not supposed to come off until this Saturday's game against Northwestern, but the senior had planned to abandon the "crutch" last weekend against top-ranked Ohio State.
Posluszny still has averaged nearly eight tackles per game with 31 total tackles in four contests. He has yet to show his old flare for the big play, though. In fact, he has not recorded a sack, tackle for loss or a forced turnover this season.
He might not be the greatest "tester" in terms of workout numbers, but Posluszny brings great intangibles and attitude to the position. There's a chance he might produce average 40-yard-dash times. If he does, he would be considered more of an early-to-middle first-round choice than a guaranteed top-five prospect.
- Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback led his team to a second straight upset win, guiding the Huskies past Pac-10 foe UCLA by using both his arm and legs. Stanback completed 18 of 29 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns and added 46 yards on the ground in a stirring 29-19 comeback win that saw the Huskies score 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Stanback is not your prototypical QB, as he lacks great touch and accuracy on his passes, but the senior is a fantastic athlete who has enjoyed success in a number of roles. He seems to prefer quarterback, for now.
He has heard he might be headed for a position change in the NFL, but he would need to do a better job of securing the ball when running. He also has just 11 career receptions, 10 of which came during his freshman season in 2003. Stanback is an elusive runner with better quickness than pure straight-line speed, so his postseason decision to be flexible in terms of showcasing his all-around talents will be the key to improving his draft-day status.
- Michigan State defensive end Ervin Baldwin put his name on the national map with his 20-yard interception return for a touchdown against Notre Dame last Saturday.
The Georgia native, who played two years of junior college ball at Reedley College in California, just turned 20 in August. He has flashed an impressive combination of speed, quickness off the snap and athleticism through the first four games of his NCAA career. The junior has 3½ tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, three quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. He has given the Spartans a true presence at their "rush" end position.
Baldwin stands right around 6-2 and weighs 255 pounds, so he will likely be used mostly as a standup edge rusher in Michigan State's scheme. In order to further impress pro scouts, he needs to play some with his hand down or even back at outside linebacker. He possesses the natural pass-rushing skills to get the attention of 3-4 scheme defensive coordinators.
- Miami defensive lineman Baraka Atkins, who at one time was considered a possible first-round pick, has seen his stock slide after recently earning a spot in the coaching staff's doghouse while sharing his spot with undersized sophomore Eric Moncur. Atkins has been slow to recognize the play, lacks power and speed in his game and at times has seemed to go through the motions, according to the biggest critics among area scouts.
Atkins' performance comes on the heels of a similar performance shown by former Hurricanes teammate Orien Harris, whose draft stock fell after his rather ordinary Senior Bowl and scouting combine results. (Harris then failed to make the Pittsburgh Steelers' active roster after being chosen in the fifth round of last April's NFL draft.)
There is still enough time left in Atkins' senior season to improve his current image, but for now, he could potentially slide into the second day of the draft.
- Notre Dame tight end John Carlson has gone from an unknown who was sparingly used as a blocker in past years to one of this season's most effective pass catchers at his position.
Carlson, who has very good size (6-5, 255 pounds), led the Irish with four catches for 121 yards, including an eye-opening 62-yard touchdown catch-and-run right down the middle of the seam against Michigan State. The senior has become the safety-valve receiver for quarterback Brady Quinn and averages a team-best 17.5 yards per catch.
- UTEP wide receiver Daniel Robinson has drawn the attention of area scouts thanks to his recent production and raw physical tools. The 6-4, 205-pound senior had six catches for 97 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown, against New Mexico last weekend, and he is the team's second-leading receiver with 12 catches for 178 yards through three games.
Robinson was overshadowed by fellow senior receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins, but he has created his own stir because he has been timed in the 4.4-second range at his current size to go along with a 38-inch vertical jump. Robinson's route running and hands are still developing, but the former basketball recruit/player is attempting to elevate his draft grade with continued improvement.
- Texas Tech wide receiver Jarrett Hicks was given a reprieve by the NCAA late last week when it decided he had made a substantial enough effort toward getting his grades straight to re-instate him. He was initially ruled academically ineligible. The senior returned to action last Saturday with three catches for 59 yards, including a short touchdown catch in the second quarter, in a blowout win over Southeastern Louisiana.
- Central Michigan linebacker Ike Brown will miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair meniscus damage to his knee. He suffered the injury three weekends ago against Michigan. Team doctors waited for the swelling to go down and initially thought a quick scope would cost him only two to three weeks. But more damage was found during the procedure. The senior will now request a medical redshirt year from the NCAA.
Brown was very active in the Chippewas' season-opening near-upset of Boston College, recording 11 tackles and one forced fumble. He has become attractive to NFL teams thanks to his athleticism and versatility.
- East-West Shrine Game officials have extended an early invitation to Houston's Kevin Kolb after continuing their evaluation of the senior quarterback in the Cougars' impressive 34-25 win over Oklahoma State last Saturday. The 82nd East-West Shrine Game will be played in Houston after a one-year stopover in San Antonio. It will become the first-and-only college all-star game to have full-access to an NFL team's practice facility and stadium.
SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS
- New Hampshire wide receiver David Ball scored three times in a rout over Dartmouth last Saturday, giving the senior 50 career touchdown receptions. That tied him with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice for the Division I-AA all-time record.
Ball, who was the standout player in the Wildcats' upset win over Northwestern in their season opener, is a former three-sport star who played only eight-man football in his home state of Vermont before graduating to the 11-man game at the college level. He has good size (6-2, 205) and makes up for good but not great 40 speed by having better-than-advertised game speed. He also runs some of the best routes in college football.
Ball's track and field background helps him against smaller defenders as he leaps to the highest point to bring down the ball. He has been recognized by his coaching staff as having the work ethic of a walk-on, let alone a Division I-AA All-American, and he gets the most out of his ability, which should allow him to compete at the next level in a role similar to Indianapolis Colts receiver Brandon Stokley.
- Dartmouth wide receiver Ryan Fuselier might not have been the best prospect on the field last week when he and his team lost to top-rated New Hampshire. But a number of area scouts who have spoken with head coach Buddy Teevens (a former Division I-A head coach at Stanford and Tulane) have responded with a positive report about the senior's potential for an NFL future.
Fuselier caught 10 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown last weekend and currently leads all Ivy League receivers in catches, yards and touchdowns. Although he lacks ideal speed (4.7 range), his long arms, lean physique and multiple-sport background have earned him praise. Fuselier stands 6-5 and 225 pounds and has the body type to fill out over the next few years to weigh in the 240-245 pound range. Some area scouts think he could earn a place in a West Coast style offense if he was used as a motion tight end. That way, his lack of experience as a blocker at the line of scrimmage would not hamper his progress as a pass catcher.
- Tuskegee quarterback Kevin Huff struggled this past weekend with his passing accuracy, but the senior still managed to use his all-around athleticism to get his team past the hard-nosed defensive unit of Fort Valley State. Huff, who completed just 50 percent of his passes, rushed for 75 yards on 11 attempts, including a pair of scores. He has many of the raw skills that would excite NFL quarterback coaches. But offensive coordinators would be pulling out their hair in order to keep his talents under control. He tends to abandon the pocket too willingly and holds the ball low before many of his throws.
At just under 6-2 and 218 pounds, Huff has legitimate NFL size for a quarterback and the necessary arm strength to make most of the throws. But he will spray the ball around at times and put too much air under his deep throws. If he is to impress pro scouts with more than his athleticism, Huff must raise his completion percentage (around 53 percent) and cut down on his turnovers. (Fellow senior prospect Rashod Mouton of Fort Valley State returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown last week.)
Senior wide receiver Lorenzo Crawford, a former Notre Dame recruit and transfer, leads the Golden Tigers with 17 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns.