You’re all familiar with that saying, “better late, than never”, right? I sure hope so, because after the holidays, and then the O’Brien NFL saga, we managed to drop the ball on wrapping up our postseason grades for the defensive side of the ball. Give us an incomplete, I suppose. But over the next few days, we will work our way through the Lions defense, and special teams. Consider this a way to stave off the college football offseason for a few more days.
The Penn State defensive line has been a strength for as long as any of us can remember, continually churning out All Conference players, All Americans, and high round NFL draft picks under longtime coach Larry Johnson, Sr. Even more impressive is how often Coach Johnson has had to replace a significant portion of his starters due to graduation. After the 2011 season, PSU would lose All American Devon Still at tackle, along with Eric Lattimore, and Jack Crawford on the ends. All he did was rebuild the line into one of the stronger Nittany Lions defensive fronts in recent memory.
Senior Jordan Hill, who played in Still’s shadow the previous two seasons was the unquestioned leader of the group, and certainly played like it throughout most of the season. His dominant effort in the season ending Senior Day win over Wisconsin, on one good knee, will be the stuff that will dominate conversations around the State College bars for years to come. Somehow Hill’s 64 tackle (8.5 TFL), 4.5 sack, was passed over when All American time came. Redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes burst onto the scene early in the season, and did not let him. His 27 tackles (10 TFL), 5 sack, 3 forced fumble season earned him Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors, along with freshman All American recognition from the FWAA, among others. Senior DE Sean Stanley added 4 sacks, and freshman Anthony Zettel tacked on 4 himself, as well as one of the greatest paintball stories you’ll ever hear.
It’s hard to find a game where the defensive line was not impressive. Even in PSU’s four losses, the line was disruptive. Even against Ohio State and Nebraska, the line was able to pressure Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez, only to see their athleticism extend the play and pick up big yardage. In the Nebraska game specifically was downright dominant with multiple tackles for loss. And then there is Hill’s performance against the Badgers, almost single handily leading PSU to victory.
Moving forward, Barnes will become the focus of the line, and Johnson will need to plug the new parts in. Going into this season, the question was how would Hill would respond with the departure of Still, not to mention who would take over at the ends. DaQuan Jones, Kyle Baublitz will be the returning experience at the tackle spots. 2012 signees Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey will be expected to provide depth. Zettel, Brad Bars, C.J. Olanyian and redshirt freshman to be Evan Schawn are the men who will help out Barnes on the ends.
The PSU defensive line always has high expectations, and I’ve been accused of being a harsh grader, but even the stingiest professor has a hard time finding a hole in this group. Give them an A.
Follow VBR Lead Editor Matt de Bear on Twitter for all the latest on Penn State!