The Pain Train is coming

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

According to Adam Caplan, the Lions have signed seventh-round draft choice Zack Follett to a three-year deal.  Known as the “Pain Train” to his Cal teammates, Follett has said that he patterns his game after the original Pain Train, Terry Tate

Coming out of Clovis, CA as a four-star recruit—the 40th-ranked linebacker in the nation--Follett immediately made an impact at Cal with his speed and aggressiveness.  Playing in every game as a true freshman, he had 32 tackles and 2 sacks.  As a sophomore, he only started one game, yet lead the team in tackles for loss (12.5), tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5), led the Pac-10 in forced fumbles (4), had 62 total tackles, and was honorable mention All-Pac 10.  As a junior starter, he was second-team All-Pac 10; again with 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks, plus 64 total tackles.  However, his season was interrupted by a neck stinger, caused by the aggravation of a bulging disc discovered in high school.  Just prior to his senior season, Cal switched to a 3-4 alignment, partially to maximize Follett’s explosive, attacking style:

I would say they were successful. Follett finished fourth in the Pac-10 with 10.5 sacks.  He also led the Pac-10 in tackles for loss (23) and forced fumbles (5).  He was named first-team All Pac-10, in a conference rife with NFL linebacking talent.  He was also MVP of the Emerald Bowl after racking up 9 tackles (8 solo), four of them for losses (-33 yards).  That also includes two sacks, one of which forced a fumble.

As easy as it is to get pumped about Follett’s amazing hits, huge plays, and passion for football, there are several drawbacks to his game.  Follett’s far from a complete linebacker; he was asked to do little more than blitz in college. He lacks the coverage skills to be a traditional 4-3 strong side OLB, and there were multiple reports from minicamp that he’s having difficulty picking up Gunther Cunningham’s scheme.  While it’s tempting to compare his skill set to OLB Julian Peterson, a more apt comparison would be former Buckeye and Patriot Andy Katzenmoyer, whose explosive highlight-reel hits in college failed to translate into excellent all-around play in the NFL . . . and whose career was also sidelined by neck stingers.

Follett’s only saving grace may be that he won’t be asked to be a traditional strong side OLB; the Cunningham-Schwartz scheme will feature a lot of blitzing, as high as forty percent of snaps.  If Follett can prove to be a situational threat when blitzing, and a special teams demon, he could yet make the roster—and be the next against-the-odds fan favorite, in the mold of David Kircus, Greg Blue, and “Blue” Adams.

Discuss it here, in The Den!