Penn State has a fairly rich history of putting players in the immediate rounds of the NFL Draft.
Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson (center) has coached five first-round draft picks in the last 10 years.
Much of that recent history can be traced to two men.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden were both retained by coach Bill O'Brien this winter after each spent more than a decade on Joe Paterno's staff. Penn State's players were thrilled that both coaches would be staying with the program not only because they had developed relationships with Johnson and Vanderlinden but because they knew their history of developing NFL-caliber players.
In the last 10 drafts, there have been 38 Nittany Lions selected. Thirteen of those players were linebackers or defensive linemen. Twenty of those players were chosen in the first three rounds of the draft, and 11 of those 20 -- including five of the eight first-round picks during that span -- were linebackers or defensive linemen.
That list could grow this week. Defensive tackle Devon Still, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is in New York for the draft and is projected by some analysts, including NFL.com's Gil Brandt, as a first-round selection.
Johnson, who has been at Penn State since 2000, has long been known as a coach players can go to when they need to discuss issues that don't concern football. Between the lines, though, he pushes their limits every day.
"He prepares defensive linemen to be the best player they can possibly be," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said.
Defensive tackles Jimmy Kennedy (2003) and Jared Odrick (2010) and ends Michael Haynes (2003), Tamba Hali (2006) and Aaron Maybin (2009) were all Johnson proteges who went on to become first-round picks. All were talented players when they came to Penn State but, with Johnson's help, all of them added something to their games before they left.
"First of all, he's relentless, and second of all, he's a perfectionist," defensive end Pete Massaro said. "Even if you make a great play, if you sack the quarterback, he's going to go out and obviously he's going to point out the good things that you did but he's going to go back and critique your steps, critique the things you did wrong, the things that could help you to repeat that success.
Ron Vanderlinden's technical approach has helped Penn State alumni become some of the NFL's best linebackers.
"He never takes a break in letting you off of technique or if you take bad steps, he's not gonna let you off. He's constantly searching for ways to get better, and I think that's what helps a lot of the guys just keep moving the bar further up."
Vanderlinden came to Penn State in 2001 after four seasons as the head coach at Maryland and five as the defensive coordinator at Northwestern. He helped Paul Posluszny win the Butkus and Bednarik Awards and three of his former players (Posluszny, NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee) finished in the top 30 in tackles in the NFL in 2011.
Vanderlinden's reputation as a skilled tactician is not lost on prospects considering Penn State.
"The reason I went to Penn State was to work with Coach Vanderlinden," linebacker Michael Mauti said.
Even players who admitted they liked to "freelance" -- make plays outside the scheme of a defense -- before they came to Penn State, like current linebacker Gerald Hodges, wind up being won over by Vanderlinden's disciplined approach. Why? Because they see how it worked for the players who came before them.
"He'd been here since I got here, he'd recruited me, and I love everything about him as a coach," Hodges said. "All the little things matter. He's always stressing paying attention to detail. Do the little things right."