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Penn State Football: Expect Cam Brown to End LBU’s NFL Draft Drought

by on May 16, 2019 7:00 PM

Senior Cam Brown could be — should be — the linebacker who breaks the longest drought in LBU history.

It has been six drafts since a Penn State linebacker has been selected by the NFL.

That was back in 2013, when the Minnesota Vikings drafted both Gerald Hodges (fourth round) and Michael Mauti (seventh).

Since then, nothing.

Twenty-four Nittany Lions drafted — a stellar dozen in the past two seasons — but nary a Lionbacker.

That’s not to deny the recent success of Mike Hull (Miami), Brandon Bell (Cincinnati), former D-end Garrett Sickels (L.A Rams) and Jason Cabinda (Oakland).

Each was an undrafted free agent. Each has made his mark by making an NFL roster as a linebacker and showing the combination of grit, smarts, skill and maturity that has characterized Penn State linebacker play for literally a half-century.

Hull, BBell, Sickels and Cabinda each had to make The League as an UDFA, despite a combined 115 career starts and 897 tackles at Penn State. (The breakdown: Hull – 23 starts, 294 tackles; Bell – 32, 224; Sickels – 24, 93; and Cabinda – 36, 286.)

Still...given that draft picks are the coin of the NFL realm, since the combined AFL-NFL draft in 1967, there had never been a string of draft disinterest like that which has recently reared its ugly head.

In fact, the NFL has had a long love affair with Lion ’backers, dating back to 1963, when Dave Robinson was a first-round selection of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. From 1970 to 1996, there were only three drafts where a Nittany Lion linebacker was not selected. Overall, since 1967 a total of 56 PSU LBs have been drafted by the NFL. In 16 of the drafts, two or more Penn State linebackers were picked.

The richest PSU LB draft was in 1970, when Dennis Onkotz, Steve Smear, John Ebersole, Don Abbey and Jim Kates were selected. Four linebackers were picked in the 1987 draft, headed by first-round selection Shane Conlan, in addition to Don Graham, Bob White (drafted as an LB) and Bob Ontko. Then there was LaVar Arrington, selected No. 2 overall in the 2000 draft, joining Conlan, Ed O’Neil (1974) and Robinson as first-round selections. Arrington's fellow linebacker, Brandon Short — a current member of Penn State’s Board if Trustees — was drafted in the fourth round in 2000.

GETTING DRAFTY

Before the recent drought, Penn State was on a characteristic roll, with nine picks in seven seasons:

2007 — Paul Posluszny, second round, Buffalo; Tim Shaw, fifth, Carolina

2008 — Dan Connor, third, Carolina

2010 — Sean Lee, second, Dallas; NaVorro Bowman, third, San Francisco; Josh Hull, St. Louis

2012 — Nathan Stupar, seventh, Oakland

2013 — Hodges, fourth, Minnesota; Mauti, seventh, Minnesota

They’ve done all right too. They have averaged 7.5 years in the NFL, totaling 3,507 tackles as a group, with Poz, Lee and Bowman all earning Pro Bowl status.

Soon, it will be Brown’s turn in the 2020 draft. And, maybe, Jan Johnson’s as well. (Count on former Nittany Lion Manny Bowen, now at Utah, to be picked in next year’s draft as well.)

After that, surely Micah Parsons will be a coveted selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, assuming he comes out after three seasons at Penn State. Then, the Nittany Lions’ run of quality recruiting at linebacker could continue the streak, with the likes of Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa or two 2019 early enrollee freshmen, Brandon Smith and Lance Dixon in the pipeline.

WHAT BROWN CAN DO FOR PSU

In the meantime, though, book it: Brown will have a big year for the Blue and White in 2019.

“I look for Cam to have a really big senior year for us,” Brent Pry, Penn State’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, said after the Blue-White Game. Pry said that Brown will be the leader of the Nittany Lion defense this fall.

“I would think he’s stepped into that role,” Pry revealed. “That’s what he wanted for himself. 

”Cam is a guy who I think kicked it around leaving early a little bit,” said Pry, ”and may have made a commitment to come back and be the player he can be. He knew there was still a lot of growth there.”

It’s a process. Developing NFL-ready linebackers isn’t just a given, even at LBU. It begins with evaluating high schoolers on and off the field (and sometimes on the basketball court — Tom Bradley famously traveled in a snowstorm to Frewsburg, N.Y., to catch Shane Conlan playing hoops, then convinced Joe Paterno to give the skinny-calved, under-sized future All-Pro a scholarship).

Then you must recruit the right ones and convince them to attend your school — sometimes twice, given that Parsons committed, de-committed and then finally signed with Penn State. That’s followed by development, training and the coaching of technique. The player must be disciplined and committed. Sounds like most of the guys on the aforementioned list, right?

The best ones not only become great linebackers, they also emerge as great leaders. Brown is on the cusp of all of that. He Cam be that good. Brown seized control of the team in the minutes after Penn State’s disheartening 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, a game where the Nittany Lions never led.

“In the locker room after the bowl game, Cam stepped up and made a statement to the group,” shared Pry. “From that point on, he’s kind of stepped into that role. I think he wants it. I think the kids respect him.

According to Pry, Brown’s message was simple, but loud and clear:

“We’ve got to be better. We have to be more accountable. We have to change some things to take the steps we want to take so that this doesn’t happen.”

Pry saw it this way: “That was a message that — to be honest, we’re a pretty process-oriented group — there was an underlying motivation. His statement pushed it in that direction.”

THROWN INTO THE FIRE

The 2019 Brown is a far cry from the 2016 version.

That Cam Brown was a true freshman, all of 205 pounds to go along with his 6-foot-5 frame. When linebackers kept on going down early in the 2016 season — Cabinda, Bell and Johnson and among them — Brown was thrust into action. Way too early. He didn’t even play in the season-opener against Kent State that freshman season, and had just one tackle in the next two games, against Pitt and Temple

Then came The Big Moment in the Big House. Johnson was hurt early in that game, tearing his ACL in his only appearance of the season, and Pry called Brown’s No. 6 — not only Brown’s jersey number but close to his spot on the depth chart. Brown responded with 10 tackles in the Wolverines’ 49-10 blowout victory and came back with nine tackles the next week against Minnesota, in an overtime game that was the fulcrum of the James Franklin Era.

Brown went back to the bench, but his was a baptism of fire. Only Daenery’s dragons know heat like that.

“Cam has played a lot of football here, a lot of hard snaps,” Pry pointed out. “He’s probably a guy who should have redshirted and we couldn’t afford to do it. I’ll never forget that up at Michigan he played 75 true snaps as a freshman at 205 pounds. So, he’s been through it. He’s got a unique perspective on things.”

Now up to 230 pounds, Brown has retained his speed. He ranked second on the 2018 squad in tackles on passes, sandwiched between defensive backs Amani Oruwariye and Nick Scott. 

Even though Parsons is the athletic freak at linebacker and Johnson the wiliest of veterans — the former walk-on is entering his fifth season, having already earned his master’s degree in management and organizational leadership; certainly helpful stuff for a middle linebacker — it is Brown who is The Leader.

CAM THE MAN

After the Blue-White Game, I asked Brown that very question: Is this your team?

“Time will tell,” the Maryland native modestly replied.

“I wouldn’t say this is my team; I’d say it’s a collective thing,” Brown added. “Yes, I’ve stepped up in certain aspects with the leadership role. It’s not something you do, it’s something that happens. Guys come to you for certain things when they see you and acting a certain way. I try to act and uphold a certain standard all the time.”

Given the rich history of LBU, it’s a high standard indeed. Brown seems up to the task.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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