Paul Posluszny remains one of the most legendary linebackers in college football history. A fierce competitor and fiery leader, Posluszny was the first junior named team captain at Penn State University since 1968. As the latest in a long line of blue-chip linebacker prospects (thus earning PSU its famous "Linebacker U" moniker), Posluszny entered the 2007 NFL Draft on the fast track, even with questions surrounding a knee injury that limited his growth in his senior season.
Now, Posluszny enters his third NFL season as the starting linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. It's a job title he's held for the entirety of his career while healthy; "Poz" missed all but ten quarters of his rookie season with a broken arm. With just 19 starts under his belt, Posluszny has averaged over seven tackles per game in his very young career, and led the Bills with 110 stops in 2008.
There's no question that Posluszny has been a steady performer in the very early stages of his professional career. In order to further his college legend at this level, however, Posluszny must mature into the assertive leader and playmaker that he was in college. From what we can glean in a pre-season setting, Poz has taken strides toward achieving precisely that goal.
Eye-witness accounts of Posluszny's maturation
More than one source covering Bills training camp has come forward to discuss Posluszny's growth as a player and as a team leader. Chris Brown, lead journalist for BuffaloBills.com, offered this nugget on Posluszny up as he ended out camp awards:
This guy’s demeanor on the field has changed significantly. He’s taken full command of the team’s defense and you can see it and hear it in his voice. In year three Buffalo’s MLB is a confident player that’s ready to lead as well as become a playmaker.
Joining Brown in publicly mentioning Posluszny's pre-season performance to date is Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News in his own camp recap:
Let's face it: You expect Lee Evans to look good in training camp. Marcus Stroud is going to look like the most talented big body on the defensive line. But who looked like they might step up among Bills starters? Linebacker Paul Posluszny had some interceptions, was fast in pursuit sideline to sideline and looked very good against Tennessee.
Maturation about more than mindset
The public praise and the apparent growth in Posluszny's comfort level with his role are nothing but good things for this team. For a player that entered the league with Posluszny's resume, however, these sentiments should be expected by year three. This is where he was supposed to be. The key, now, is taking the next step. After all, if "leader" simply implied work ethic, desire and effort, Buffalo would have an entire roster full of leaders.
Good leaders make the players around them better. Posluszny has yet to do that on a tangible level, but it's of the utmost importance this year, as he is one of the team's most experienced linebackers. He'll have help in leading the team's vastly inexperienced depth players at his position - players such as rookies Nic Harris and Ashlee Palmer, for instance - from Kawika Mitchell, but that doesn't decrease the significant weight that Poz carries for these young players. They know him. They respect him. He needs to continue to earn their respect.
The best NFL leaders also perform. It's one thing to motivate and enhance the play of your teammates by leading by example and having a firm grasp on the defense. It's quite another to lead on the field with your own play. In 19 games, Posluszny - for all of his consistency - has just one interception, one forced fumble and six defended passes on his resume. He has yet to record an NFL sack, though to be fair, pressuring the quarterback was never exactly his forte. Like many young Bills players, but perhaps most pertinently for Posluszny (and, obviously, QB Trent Edwards), big plays are a must. Leaders make plays. Poz is closer to doing that as well. That interception he dropped against Tennessee? That's a play he has to make.
2009 is make-or-break for everybody
We have discussed throughout this long, torturous off-season the fact that every single Buffalo Bill is facing a make-of-break season in 2009. Without a playoff berth, broad, sweeping change will make its inevitable return to Western New York. Of the long list of young, yet-to-really-prove-themselves Bills players that could most help the team with break-out seasons, Posluszny is very near the top of the list. That break-out season would be hugely beneficial to a defense that still lacks a true star.
Talent? Absolutely. Work ethic? Check. Grasp of the defense? You bet. Gaining confidence on a daily basis? Poz has this one taken care of, too. Poz is on the precipice. The next step, however, is the most difficult to take - turning preparation, motivation, ability and confidence into on-field production, specifically in the form of game-changing plays. Posluszny has the ability to take that step, and to take it quickly. If he does, the sky is the limit.