Penn State has proudly worn the nickname "Linebacker U." for decades.

It started in the 1960s and lives on until this very day.

But is the moniker truly deserved?

Like many sports questions, it depends on who you ask and the "facts" you choose to use.

Other college powers -- such as Alabama, Southern Cal, Ohio State and numerous others -- have long disputed Penn State's claim as the true-blue "Linebacker U." Many of those programs can make a valid case.

That's because there are various ways to judge a school's linebackers -- All-Americans, Hall of Famers (college or pro), first-round NFL draft picks, Pro Bowl selections, etc.

No matter how you judge linebackers, however, there can be little debate that four former Nittany Lions are excelling at the position in the NFL right now -- and success at the highest level is definitely a legitimate way to judge linebacker talent.

In fact, a strong argument could be made that all four will be deserving of Pro Bowl consideration come January.

Following is brief look at the quartet of ex-PSU standouts who are thriving at linebacker in the NFL:

Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs: Hali was a star defensive end for the Lions, and played that position in his first few years with the Chiefs, too.


Once the Chiefs moved him to outside linebacker, however, Hali really began to shine. The eighth-year pro has made three-straight Pro Bowls and appears well on his way to his fourth. He already has 71/2 sacks this season -- good for fourth in the NFL -- and he's coming off a monster 31/2-sack performance against Oakland.

NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers: In just four years in the NFL, Bowman has emerged as a dominant force on one of the NFL's best defenses.

He's been selected as a first-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons and he may be headed for a third honor after this season. He's already piled up 53 tackles, with two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in six games this season.

Sean Lee, Dallas Cow boys: Lee has been a playmaker for the Cowboys since he was drafted in 2010.

He's had some trouble staying healthy in the NFL, but when he's on the field, Lee has excelled. When he played 15 games in 2011, he finished with 105 tackles and four interceptions. This season he's collected 60 tackles. He's been especially dominant in the last three weeks, averaging nearly 15 tackles per game.

Paul Posluszny, Jack sonville Jaguars: Posluszny plays in near anonymity for the winless Jaguars.

That doesn't mean that he should be overlooked. He has five-straight seasons of 110-plus tackles. Barring an injury, he'll top that total again this season. He already has 54 tackles and two interceptions in 2013. He has 11 interceptions for his career. One of his interceptions this year came last week against Peyton Manning, and he returned that pick for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, taking interceptions to the house is nothing new for this group of ex-PSU linebackers. Lee and Hali have also done that trick this season.

And this list doesn't even include another former Penn State linebacker who is playing defensive end -- and playing it quite well -- in the NFL.

Cameron Wake has become a standout with the Miami Dolphins. He was known as Derek Wake with PSU, but after a trip through the Canadian Football League he emerged with a new name and at a new position with the Dolphins in 2009. Since then, he's twice been selected to the Pro Bowl. He averaged more than 12 sacks per season from 2010 through 2012. This season he's had some injury issues, but has 21/2 sacks in four games.

Those five players constitute an impressive collection of NFL talent.

Does that mean Penn State is the one-and-only "Linebacker U.?"

That's a matter for debate.

But it's pretty obvious that the Lions certainly belong in the argument.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis