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Could Shazier be Packers' answer to Kaepernick?

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By Tyler Dunne
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
May 7, 2014

GREEN BAY--At his pro day, Ryan Shazier ran an unofficial 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The time would have topped all linebackers at the NFL scouting combine by a stride. Maybe two. And his coach couldn’t care less.

Luke Fickell knows what the Ohio State linebacker did on Saturdays.

“There were two guys on our team—every Saturday—who were the fastest two guys,” said Fickell, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. “Ryan Shazier was one of them. (Quarterback) Braxton Miller was the other. I don’t know what they ran in the 40-yard dash. I don’t care what they ran. They were the fastest guys on the field.”

In Green Bay, Colin Kaepernick remains Nemesis No. 1 in the war room. General manager Ted Thompson is exactly where he was this time last year, trying to figure out how to stop a quarterback who sent his team into the off-season. Kaepernick has burned the Packers for 1,203 total yards and eight touchdowns in San Francisco wins.

One reason may be a need for speed in the middle of the 3-4 defense. Shazier is a fast, athletic, gap-shooting linebacker who might slip to Green Bay at No. 21 overall.

An intimidating safety? Another pass rusher? A playmaking defensive back?

There’s a good chance decisions Thursday through Saturday are made with Kaepernick on the mind. Through this lens, Shazier would be a candidate.

“It’s just a little bit of that ‘it’ factor,” said Fickell, who has coached the Buckeyes linebackers since 2004. “He’s got it. The No. 1 thing for linebackers, just natural instincts and flying to the football, that’s a God-given ability. And that’s what Ryan has. That instinct.”

Saturday-to-Saturday playmaking is what separates Shazier from Buckeyes linebackers past, Fickell says. The last two seasons, Shazier totaled 401/2 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 16 pass breakups and seven forced fumbles. At 237 pounds, he is leaner. Shazier moved around, too. From the middle, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley may be the more instinctual player.

Former NFL cornerback Corey Chavous, who now scouts for “Draft Nasty,” graded Shazier ahead of Mosley. Chavous says Shazier has a “wide-receiver-like” lower body yet is more explosive than Mosley.

“His ability to chase things down—his short-area burst as a blitzer in the A and B gaps,” Chavous said, “those things along with his ability to cover tight ends, those things are positives.”

Chasing down Kaepernick remains the issue in Green Bay. His damage has gone beyond the read option, beyond his right arm. Too often, he broke Green Bay’s contain. Despite a spirited effort in January, the dam eventually broke on one 42-yard run and another back-breaking, third-and-8 conversion.

In Miller, Shazier did face one of the nation’s top collegiate dual threats on a daily basis. In practice, Fickell often rushed three or four players and stuck Shazier on Miller as a spy, as “the cheetah” in their defense.

“And he couldn’t get away from him,” Fickell said. “One day Braxton finally said, ‘Could you quit putting that guy on me.’…That was a battle we knew we could win.”

At least in these practices, Fickell let defensive linemen rush upfield without needing to worry about contain on the edges because of Shazier. He could corral mobile quarterbacks solo. The likes of A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and Bobby Carpenter, Fickell said, were the “full-fledged linebacker guys.” Shazier was more of “an explosive playmaking guy.”

Within the defense, Shazier played on the weak side, in the middle and rushed. With added bulk, Fickell believes Shazier could be a 3-4 inside linebacker.

“He’s just scratching the surface on his abilities,” Fickell said. “If he continues to grow, he could play there. That’s the thing with Ryan. He could play in any type of system. He could move around. He’s not some little, frail speed guy. He can hit you. He can do all the different stuff. He’ll be a 240-guy no problem.”

Chavous does not see Shazier’s instincts at Mosley’s level. He believes Shazier is a run-and-chase linebacker in the Alec Ogletree mold.

A year ago, of course, the Packers took defensive end Datone Jones five slots ahead of Ogletree, the St. Louis Rams linebacker who had 117 tackles and six forced fumbles.

Possibly this year Thompson has another shot at taking an athletic linebacker.

Fickell says the game doesn’t confuse Shazier, that he doesn’t slow down at the line.

“That’s where he’s special,” Fickell said. “Ryan transitions it to the football field with speed and quickness and power and decision-making. He’s phenomenal.”



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