2011 Path to the Draft: Inside linebacker

This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.

The Texans plan to use Pro Bowlers and as their two inside linebackers in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense.

Ryans, a team captain who’s coming off a major Achilles injury, will be the Mo linebacker on the weakside. Cushing, who played outside linebacker in the 4-3, would play the Mike position on the strongside. The Texans see Cushing as a potential anchor in the run game who can also pressure and blitz from the inside.

Ryans is confident that he’ll be ready physically in time for training camp and the 2011 season. The Texans also have hard-hitting linebacker , one of their top rookies in 2010, as an intriguing option on the inside.

If Ryans comes back healthy, the Texans will be in great shape at the inside linebacker positions. That’ll be one of the key storylines to watch for the team this offseason.

With a few days to go until the 2011 NFL Draft, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine potential inside linebacker options for the Texans in an exclusive feature for HoustonTexans.com:

National Football Post analysis
New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips drafted five linebackers in four years with the , so don’t be surprised if he lobbies head coach Gary Kubiak to address this position come draft weekend.  The Texans already have Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans to man the inside, so don’t expect to see Houston target an ILB on Day 1. However, should the organization make a move on Days 2 or 3, here are some players they could target:

DAY 2 INSIDE LINEBACKER OPTIONS AT 2.10 AND 3.9

1. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (6-2, 250, 4.64): A first-team All-SEC linebacker in 2010, Sheppard posted career highs in tackles (118) and sacks (4) last season for the 11-2 Tigers. He possesses a good first step when asked to attack the line of scrimmage, gets up to speed quickly and knows how to make his way into the backfield once he locates the football. Sheppard takes himself out of a lot of plays and isn’t overly physical when asked to take on blocks inside, but he does showcase some nice range and natural power. Has the potential to start at any linebacker position.

2. Nate Irving, North Carolina State (6-1, 240, 4.70): Irving was named first-team All-ACC after an impressive 2010 season that consisted of seven sacks, 89 tackles and three forced fumbles in 12 games. A physical, wrap-up tackler who possesses impressive lower body strength with the ability to drive his legs through contact, Irving exhibits a good first step but displays only average straight-line speed in pursuit. However, he reads and reacts quickly to the play and is consistently getting good jumps on the football. This guy is a physical linebacker who knows how to win at the point of attack. 

DAY 3 INSIDE LINEBACKER OPTIONS AT 4.8, 5.7, 6.13, 7.11 AND 7.51

1. Alex Wujciak, Maryland (6-3, 247, 4.74): A two-time first team All-ACC selection at linebacker, Wujciak registered a rock-solid 354 tackles in three years at Maryland. A physical, thickly built ILB prospect who very much looks the part, Wujciak has a real passion for the game, plays with a mean streak and loves to compete. He isn’t a real gifted athlete by any stretch, looks stiff in space and lacks ideal range sideline to sideline, but he can create a real snap through his hips into contact, wraps up well and is a powerful short-area tackler who would be perfectly suited to play ILB in a 3-4 system.

2. Chris White, Mississippi State (6-2, 240, 4.67): White flew beneath the radar a bit playing at Mississippi State, but after racking up 105 tackles and six sacks in 2010 he was voted first team All-SEC at linebacker. Exhibits some natural power as a tackler, breaks down with good leverage and is a proper wrap-up guy. Generates good snap when asked to take on blocks and attack downhill. Has a strong, lower center of gravity, plays behind his hands and can routinely anchor in the hole. However, White isn’t a consistent stack and shed guy, lacks ideal suddenness and violence in his hands to routinely slip blocks once engaged. He’s best suited to play in a 3-4 scheme and will no doubt be available on Day 3 for the Texans. 

Follow Bunting and Fortenbaugh on Twitter @ and @. Click to check out more from the National Football Post at their scouting department page.

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