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Bill's Combine Research: Inside Linebackers
Packer Report's Bill Huber is getting ready for the Scouting Combine, and is sharing some of his research of the 328 players who will be testing for and talking to the Green Bay Packers and the NFL's other 31 teams. In Part 10, we look at the 14 inside linebackers. All heights and weights are from the schools and, therefore, not official. — Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (6-3, 250): The first-team All-American (Sporting News) declared following his junior season. Playing all 13 games, he was second in tackles (69), first in sacks (five) and second in tackles for losses (seven) on the squad. Before the season, The Sporting News featured him under the headline "The Meanest Man in College Football." In that story, an NFL scout called the soft-spoken but short-fused Burfict "what you get after you kick Ray Lewis' dog." He idolizes Ray Lewis and, appropriately, Dick Butkus. In three seasons with 32 starts, he tallied 22.5 tackles for losses and forced four fumbles. Combine Preview Part 1: 19 Quarterbacks. Part 2: 30 Running backs. Part 3: 47 Wide receivers. Part 4: 14 Tight ends. Part 5: 20 Interior offensive linemen. Part 6: 35 Offensive tackles. Part 7: 22 Safeties . Part 8: 37 Cornerbacks . Part 9: 31 Defensive tackles . — Tank Carder, TCU (6-3, 237): Carter was a third-team All-American from The Associated Press and the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. He totaled 70 tackles as a senior (4.5 for losses), giving him 228 stops for his career. Two of his school-record three pick-sixes came as a senior. He earned several All-American designations as a junior, as well, and was named defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, when he had three tackles for losses and broke up a two-point conversion pass that would have tied the game. At Sweeny (Texas) High School, he played quarterback, fullback, tailback, linebacker, punter and kicker. The kicking career started when he was a kid. He was thrown from a moving car and sustained injuries (broken back, seven broken ribs, punctured diaphragm and lungs) that kept him in a hospital for six weeks. To avoid getting hurt, he'd kick the ball, grab the tee and scamper off the field. When he was 9, he won a BMX world championship in France but quit the spot by the end of fifth grade. — Audie Cole, North Carolina State (6-5, 239): In his first season at middle linebacker, Cole was an honorable mention all-ACC selection after posting a team-high 132 total tackles. He notched 14 tackles for losses, six sacks, eight quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He had seven double-digit tackle games, including career highs of 16 against Cincinnati and Georgia Tech. He ranks 12th in school history with 328 tackles and 10th with 15 sacks. When Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was the coach at Central Michigan, he recruited Cole to play quarterback. Cole threw for 3,285 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Monroe (Mich.) High School and was a Golden Gloves winner in boxing. — Chris Galippo, USC (6-2, 250): Galippo, an all-USA Today first-teamer at Servite High School in Corona, Calif., broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore but couldn't hold the job. He started the final seven games as a junior and the first eight as a senior. He missed spring practice before his senior season with recurring back issues (he had back surgery in 2007 and 2008, causing him to take a medical redshirt in 2007). For his career, he tallied 166 tackles, 12 tackles for losses, 2.5 sacks and six interceptions. — Najee Goode, West Virginia (6-1, 241): Goode, a former walk-on, started on the strong side as a junior and moved into the middle as a senior. He was named the team's defensive MVP in 2011 with a team high 87 tackles and a second-ranked 14 tackles for loses. He added five sacks. His father, John, played tight end for the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. One of his brothers, Tariq, played at Youngstown State. That's where John played at is in the Hall of Fame. Dont'a Hightower drills Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell.Butch Dill/Getty Images — Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (6-4, 260): Hightower declared for the draft following a junior season in which he was a consensus first-team All-American and was a finalist for the Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik and Lott awards. The three-year starter finished his career with 230 tackles, including 21 tackles for losses. As a junior, he posted career highs of 85 tackles, 11 tackles for losses and four sacks. Hightower started as a true freshman but redshirted in 2009 with a torn ACL in the fourth game of the season. At Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tenn., he was Tennessee's Mr. Football as a senior. Not only was he a stud linebacker, but he scored 19 touchdowns on 77 touches as a running back, receiver or returner. His final choices for college were Alabama and ... Vanderbilt. The latter speaks to his intelligence as much as his athletic ability. — James-Michael Johnson, Nevada (6-2, 240): Crowned by a career-high 100 tackles as a senior, Johnson finished his career with 295 tackles, nine sacks, 46 tackles for losses, five forced fumbles, 11 passes defensed and three interceptions. He spent his final two seasons in the middle. Tough love made Johnson a tough guy, as his father told the Nevada Sagebrush. "He was about 13 or 14 and you know how boys are, they get testosterone going, so he tried to step up and get a little more argumentative with his mother," Michael Johnson said. "So, I said, ‘Well, let's do this. I'm going to teach you how to fight because at the rate you're going, we're going to have to throw down.'" — Steven Johnson, Kansas (6-1, 237): Johnson led the Big 12 in tackles with 124 in 12 games as a senior, with six tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and an interception. Not a bad career for a walk-on from Media, Pa. — and by walk-on, this isn't your typical walk-on. During his final season at Wyoming Seminary College Prep School, he tore his ACL and LCL. So, when he arrived at Kansas, he wasn't around the football team. At the time, he lived in a general student dorm, and people would laugh when he would say he would play for the football team. He was a regular student when the Jayhawks played in the 2008 Orange Bowl, not joining the team until spring practice. He played sparingly as a freshman and was rewarded with a scholarship just before the first day of class in 2009. — Mychael Kendricks, California (6-0, 240): Kendricks started 29 games over his final three and was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. In 2011, he posted a career-high 106 tackles and led the team with 14.5 tackles for losses. and three sacks. His father, Marvin, led UCLA in rushing in 1970 and 1971 and younger brother Eric led the Bruins in tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Eric had signed with UCLA when he and his dad attended the Cal-UCLA game. Mychael had a 68-yard pick-six. Eric and Marvin jumped off their feet and cheered — then remembered they were sitting in the UCLA section with fellow recruits and parents. — Luke Kuechly Boston College (6-3, 237): Kuechly started all three seasons before entering the draft. There was nothing else to accomplish. How's this for a junior campaign: nation-high 191 total tackles and 102 solo tackles. He became Boston College's first two-time consensus All-American, and won the Butkus, Lombardi, Lott and Nagurski awards. He had at least 10 tackles in 33 consecutive games. In three years, he rang up 532 tackles. That's two short of the NCAA record (since the NCAA made tackles an official stat in 2000), with Northwestern's Tim McGarigle recording 534 over the course of four seasons. Kuechly, a three-star recruit out of St. Xavier in Cincinnati, figured he'd redshirt as a freshman but started in place of Mark Herzlich, who had been diagnosed with bone cancer, and team captain Mike McLaughlin, who had torn his Achilles. — Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 227): Lewis put up big tackle numbers, as well. In four seasons, he piled up 445 stops, including 51.5 for losses and seven sacks. He made a ton of big plays, with nine career interceptions and two forced fumbles. Lewis started 12 of 13 games as a senior, even though a broken big toe sustained on Aug. 9 was supposed to keep him out for eight weeks, and was voted second-team all-conference. With his tackle numbers and talkative nature, Lewis reminded some in Oklahoma of Brian Bosworth. He even broke Bosworth's team-freshman record with 144 tackles. — Shawn Loiseau, Merrimack (6-1, 245): Loiseau broke the school record with 123 tackles as a sophomore, then broke it again with 133 tackles as a junior. As a senior, he ranked second in Division II with 121 tackles, 10.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks. He was named a first-team All-American and the Northeast-10 Conference's two-time defensive player of the year. His 382 career tackles are third in conference history. He's poised to become the first player drafted from a program that began in 1996. — Caleb McSurdy, Montana (6-1, 242): McSurdy was named the Big Sky Conference's Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American after registering 131 tackles, including 9.5 for losses and four sacks, for the Griz as a senior. McSurdy is nicknamed "Dirty" — not for how he plays but for a "rookie tradition" in which the freshmen tell dirty jokes during pre-practice stretching. — Bobby Wagner, Utah State (6-1, 232): Wagner answered questions about his small-school production by being named the North's MVP of the Senior Bowl with his seven tackles and an interception. Rather than return home to Ontario, Calif., for the summer, Wagner stayed on campus to prepare for his senior season. The hard work paid off: He led the Western Athletic Conference and ranked third in FBS with 147 tackles, and he tallied at least 10 tackles in nine of 13 games. He was named first-team all-WAC in each of his final three seasons. Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.
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