Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak recently told the Houston Chronicle that the team is considering picking an offensive tackle with its first pick in this month’s draft. “Solidifying left tackle for a long, long time is the key,” Kubiak said. The team was pleased with the all-too-brief rookie performance of Charles Spencer at the position, but when Spencer will return from the broken leg that sidelined him for most of the season and how he’ll play when he does is unknown. The Texans signed free agent Jordan Black, who started 15 games at left tackle for the Chiefs last year, and re-upped Ephraim Salaam, who took over the left tackle spot when Spencer went down, but Kubiak doesn’t appear to consider either veteran to be an attractive option as a long-term starter.
If public opinion regarding this draft accurately reflect the private opinions of the decision-makers for the NFL teams (which is never a given), Wisconsin’s Joe Thomas is clearly the top tackle prospect and Penn State’s Levi Brown is clearly second. Thomas will be off the board long before the Texans come up at 10, but most mock drafts have Brown selected somewhere in the vicinity of Houston’s pick. The 6’5”, 320-lb. Brown began his college career on the defensive line but switched to offense and became a four-year starter at left tackle and garnered All-American honors as a junior and senior. We talked to Ray Fittipaldo, who covers Penn State football for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to find out more about Brown and some of his Nittany Lion teammates.
HPF: Do you think Levi Brown is better suited to play left or right tackle at the NFL level, and would he be ready to step in and contribute immediately?
Fittipaldo: Brown is a very good athlete. Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson fought to keep Brown on the defensive line when he was a freshman. Joe Paterno and the offensive coaches won out, but the fact that Larry Johnson, who has sent numerous high draft picks into the NFL, wanted him badly should speak volumes for him. So, he should be able to step in and adapt at either left or right tackle. He’s being talked about as a top 10 pick. Usually those are the guys who stick at left tackle. The only thing working against Brown is that Penn State does not have a strong track record of sending offensive linemen to the NFL in recent years, so his progress will be watched closely in terms of his fundamentals and things like that.
HPF: Protecting the quarterback is a big priority for the Texans, but they are also committed to running the ball. The Nittany Lion ground attack made a marked improvement when Brown returned to the lineup after being out with a sprained knee. Please discuss his ability as run blocker.
Fittipaldo: First off, he is a very big individual, so he could just envelope some smaller guys he played against in college. I think he has such a big upside because of his athleticism and ability to block in space. Run blocking will not be a big issue for him. He is tough and can move.
HPF: What is Brown like personality-wise? Is he considered a leader in the locker room?
Fittipaldo: He was voted a team captain before the season and had a big presence in the locker room. He seemed to be all business in my dealings with him.
HPF: RB Tony Hunt was impressive at the Senior Bowl, where he was the game’s MVP. Do you think he can be an every-down back in the NFL, or more of a short-yardage specialist?
Fittipaldo: Hunt is a complete back. He can run, block and catch. I would say he would be a perfect third-down back for those reasons. I don’t think he has the flat-out speed to be an every-down back, but he can be a very effective player in the league. I would say he’s in the mold of someone like Verron Haynes from the Steelers, very solid, very reliable.
HPF: Before LB Paul Posluszny injured his knee at the end of his junior season, he was often compared to Shane Conlan, the “Linebacker U” product who was the eighth pick in the 1987 draft and a Pro Bowler for the Bills. Posluszny won’t be drafted as high as Conlan was, but do you think he could have a similar pro career?
Fittipaldo: Posluszny has all the intangibles to be a great player. He is gifted athletically and he works hard to hone his skills. He took one for the team by moving inside and that maybe hurt his draft status a little. He’ll move back outside in the NFL and will be a very good player. He is smart and he has a motor that doesn’t stop. For those reasons he’ll be successful and will have a long career.
HPF: Tim Shaw has lined up all over the place for the Nittany Lions — running back, middle linebacker, defensive end, and inside linebacker. What do you think his best position will be in the NFL?
Fittipaldo: He’s another guy who took one for the team by moving to defensive end for his senior season. I see him as one of those hybrid outside backers who can rush the passer and cover tight ends and backs out of the backfield. At the very least, he’ll be a special teams ace. He had the fastest time of any of the LBs at the combine (I believe), so he’ll make a team and have an impact in some capacity.
HPF: DT Jay Alford has shown he can get upfield and penetrate, but his ability to anchor and control the line of scrimmage has been questioned. Is he the type who will always need to be in a scheme that does a lot of slanting and stunting to be effective, or could he develop into more of a well-rounded D-lineman by bulking up?
Fittipaldo: In the right scheme Alford can do well, but he’s going to have to bulk up no matter what. He’s another guy who won’t short-change you with his effort. He has that going for him.
HPF: Do you think any of the other Penn State prospects,such as FB BranDon Short, DT Ed Johnson, S Donnie Johnson, or P Jeremy Kapinos, has the ability to make an NFL roster?
Fittipaldo: Of those guys I would say Ed Johnson has the best shot, but he was suspended for the Outback Bowl because of a team violation and he had to sit out a year under a temporary school expulsion, so there are some character questions. Johnson is a guy who might have a shot on special teams.
Ray Fittipaldo has been at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1997 and has covered Penn State football since 2000. He also covers college basketball. We thank him for his insights.
Levi Brown Home