Mason Foster a special linebacker

Published on April 26, 2011 by     Seahawks.Com News (Feed)

Mason Foster was a tackling machine for the Huskies last season, but it’s his ability to play special teams that will help him contribute immediately in the NFL.

Like many kids, Mason Foster’s dreams of some day reaching the NFL began when he first started playing the sport.

Unlike most, it’s about to happen for the tackling machine of a linebacker from the University of Washington.

“Since I first started playing football, since I was 9 years old, you dream about running out there with your favorite team,” Foster said after his Pro Day workout. “Each day, it’s getting closer and closer. So I’m excited to see at the end of April where I end up.

“This means everything to me. So I’m just going to try to keep getting better every day, to make the dream come true.”

2011 DRAFT: LINEBACKERS
A look at the positions heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

Rank Player, School Projection
1/2 OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M First Round
2/30 OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA First/Second Round
3/38 ILB Martez Wilson, Illinois First/Second Round
4/40 OLB Justin Houston, Georgia First/Second Round
5/44 OLB Brooks Reed, Arizona Second Round
What’s it all mean? Not a great year to be in the market for an impact player at what needs to be an impactful position. Rang’s overall grades reflect that, with Miller the only linebacker rated among the Top 25 players. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it, “The linebacker class is not real good. But Von Miller is the prototype rush linebacker, and immediately becomes the headache in a guy you’ve got to game plan for every week coming off the edge.”

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Foster is rated No. 9 among the outside linebackers by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. But in the Sporting News draft preview, Foster is listed as the top inside linebacker.

Which spot will he play in the NFL? That depends on where he ends up playing. But there seems to be little doubt that Foster has what it takes to play at the next level – his dream-come-true level.

“Mason Foster, I like him. He’s always around the ball,” said Todd McShay, draft analyst for ESPN. “Clearly he doesn’t have the best top-end speed. But he’s strong, he’s powerful and he always shows up on tape.”

As for that lack of top-end speed, Foster ran the 40-yard dash in 4.74 seconds at his Pro Day workout last month, which was consistent with his 4.75-second effort at the scouting combine in February. At least one scout, however, had him faster than 4.7 seconds.

“I definitely could have run faster,” Foster said. “But that’s a great range for me.”

It’s his football numbers that are even more telling. Foster averaged 12.6 tackles last season to lead the Pac-10 and rank second in the nation. His 163 tackles were the most by a Pac-10 player since the Huskies’ James Clifford had 168 in 1989, and 58 more than anyone else in the conference last season.

The efforts that led to all those tackles can’t always be measured in 40 times and number of reps in the bench press (Foster did 22 with 225 pounds at the combine).

“As a linebacker, a lot of it is instinctual,” Foster said. “It’s stuff that you do on the field. Your film speaks a lot as a linebacker. Because a lot of these drills show your explosiveness, but they have nothing to do with you making a tackle and reading the pulling guard.”

McShay has Foster rated as a late-third round pick, but also sees that as a plus for Foster.

“Mason Foster has a chance, if he gets with the right team and is given the opportunity, to become a real value pick in this draft,” McShay said.

While learning the nuances of being a linebacker in the NFL, Foster can earn his keep by playing on special teams. Just like fellow former UW linebacker Donald Butler, who went to the San Diego Chargers in the middle of the third round last year. Butler spent his rookie season on injured reserve after damaging his Achilles during a training camp practice.

Foster and Butler covered kicks for the Huskies, and scouts from several teams said at the combine that is a definite advantage because they don’t have to project how they might handle playing on special teams.

“If nothing else, early on Foster can contribute on special teams,” McShay said. “He’s got a great motor. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. And he has enough ability – especially in tackling and explosiveness – to go cover kicks.”

But there is a difference between Foster and Butler.

“No qualms whatsoever,” Nick Holt, the Huskies’ defensive coordinator, said when asked about Foster’s ability to play in the NFL. “Mason has all the tools you’re looking for.

“Mason is a little different type player than Donald. Donald is really a good middle linebacker. But Mason is one of those guys that has a lot of different things about him.”

Holt then rattled through a mental checklist that included Foster’s ability to play either outside or inside as a linebacker; contribute in the nickel; cover backs and tight ends; and rush the passer.

“So he has a lot of stuff about him,” Holt said. “Donald is a helluva player, but Mason does a lot of different things really, really well.”

Like play special teams.

“I love to play special teams. I just love to run down there and hit anybody,” Foster said. “It helps me a lot, just being versatile like that and showing that you can play different positions. The more ways you can help a team, it makes you more valuable to that team – and more teams, at that.

“So I have no problem with playing anything. I’ll play whatever; as long as it helps the team win.”

Which, of course, will help Foster reach the dream he has harbored since he was 9.

2011 Draft: Linebackers

A look at the positions heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projections by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

Rank Player, School Ht. Wt. Projection
1/2 OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M 6-3 246 First Round
2/30 OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA 6-3 254 First/Second Round
3/38 ILB Martez Wilson, Illinois 6-4 250 First/Second Round
4/40 OLB Justin Houston, Georgia 6-3 270 First/Second Round
5/44 OLB Brooks Reed, Arizona 6-3 263 Second Round
What’s it all mean? Not a great year to be in the market for an impact player at what needs to be an impactful position. Rang’s overall grades reflect that, with Miller the only linebacker rated among the Top 25 players. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it, “The linebacker class is not real good. But Von Miller is the prototype rush linebacker, and immediately becomes the headache in a guy you’ve got to game plan for every week coming off the edge.”

What about? Dontay Moch. Is he a pass-rush specialist from the defensive end position, as he was while collecting 30 career sacks at Nevada? Or is he an outside linebacker, because he weighs only 242 pounds? That’s up to teams to determine. But one thing is certain: Moch is fast – as in 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in February, when he also popped a 42-inch vertical leap while working out with the D-linemen. As NFL Network analyst and former Seahawks scout Bucky Brooks put it, “He has a chance to be a special rusher in the right system.”

What’s up with? Casey Matthews. He is rated as only the eighth-best inside ’backer by Rang, and 167th prospect overall. But when it comes to genes, No. 55 for the Oregon Ducks is second to none. His father, Clay, played 19 seasons in the NFL. His brother, Clay III, finished second in the voting for defensive player of the year last season after registering 13½ sacks for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. His uncle, Bruce, was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. While Casey is not in the same class as his brother when it comes to athletic ability, he was asked to do a lot in the Ducks’ defense scheme and did most of it very well.

Seahawks situation? Once a position of strength when Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson and Leroy Hill were the “3” in the 4-3 for the Seahawks, they somehow got by with only four true ’backers last season: David Hawthorne, the free-agent find of 2008 who led the team in tackles for the second consecutive season and from his second position in as many seasons; Tatupu, who remains the brains of the entire defense from his spot in the middle; Aaron Curry, the fourth pick overall in the 2009 draft; and Will Herring, a versatile and invaluable backup. So while linebacker is not a high priority, depth in the unit needs to be addressed.

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