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Shazier Shows Boundless Potential Against Penn State

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Ryan Shazier (No. 2) has great closing speed, making him one of the top linebackers in next April's draft. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images.
Ryan Shazier (No. 2) has great closing speed, making him one of the top linebackers in next April's draft. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images.

Ryan Shazier, a mere 222 pounds soaking wet, can do it all, and that’s why he’ll be a hot commodity in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sure, the Ohio State middle linebacker weighs 19 pounds less than the average NFL linebacker during the last five seasons, but could any of them run in the 4.4s?

And, sure, his most recent game against Penn State wasn’t spectacular. He missed one tackle, abandoned his positioning twice to allow extra yardage and failed to shed four run blocks.

OK, so it wasn’t all roses for Ohio State’s defensive leader.

For Shazier, this was an off day, one in which he had 11 tackles and a sack in just under three quarters before he was taken out of the game to avoid injury in a blowout.

He also had one under-the-radar play that led to safety Corey Brown’s interception. Brown will get all of the credit, and he deserves credit, but Shazier made the turnover possible.

On Penn State’s final play of its first drive, Christian Hackenberg faced third-and-5 from the Buckeyes’ 12-yard line. He dropped back to pass and looked left to Shazier, who successfully jammed tight end Jesse James five yards downfield. James altered his route to Shazier’s outside hip and caused Hackenberg to look back to his right and fire away into the hands of Brown.

If not for Shazier’s disruption of James’ slot route, James would have had inside positioning for an easy touchdown and Brown never would have had an opportunity to intercept Hackenberg.

It’s Shazier’s coverage ability that makes him especially valuable to NFL defensive coaches in a time where pass-happy, slot-friendly offenses are gradually becoming the norm.

In fact, Shazier dropped back into coverage on 19 of Hackenberg’s 27 passing plays and didn’t allow a single reception. Shazier also dropped into a deep zone coverage on five of those 19 plays, showing fluid hips that most defensive backs don’t possess.

Shazier’s one true weakness, being less than stout at the point of attack, is coachable. He often plays high, a technique flaw not fit for shedding blocks and tackling. He often makes up for this with extraordinary speed.

However, he also tends to allow blockers to engage him before he attempts to shed their blocks. To use an old, tired cliché, he’s a deer caught in the headlights when blockers get to the second level. Shazier needs to react faster to blockers that get to the second level.

He specifically needs to lower his pad level to:

1. Make himself a smaller target.
2. Gain a leverage advantage.

He also needs to use his agility to, if possible, avoid blockers altogether.

He showed the ability to beat blockers at the second level three times Saturday, once shedding guard Miles Dieffenbach and tackling receiver Eugene Lewis on a bubble screen. If not for Shazier’s quick reaction, Lewis would have had a safety to beat, but instead gained just four yards.

Shazier also needs to break down more when tackling. By playing high he doesn't drive ball carriers to the ground. This makes him more susceptible to allowing one or two more yards after first contact and missing tackles.

However, he also showed he can put ball carriers to a dead stop.

Penn State handed the ball off to Zach Zwinak, a bruising back, on the first play of its second drive. The offensive line gave Zwinak a huge hole to run through, but Shazier broke down and put Zwinak on his back just after he burst through the line of scrimmage.

Plays like that show Shazier reaching his potential, and that his size doesn’t matter if he can make a few adjustments to his technique against the run.