Penn State is nicknamed Linebacker U for good reason. Every season, the Penn State football team boasts depth and talent at the linebacker position. With the departures of star linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Penn State will need some of that depth to emerge heading into the 2013 season. One young linebacker who will certainly be looked at to step up and maybe even start next season will be redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman.
Glenn Carson returns as the starter at middle linebacker and 2012 backup extraordinaire Mike Hull will start at one of the outside linebacker spots. So the question is who will start at the other outside linebacker position. Had Khairi Fortt not transferred to Cal, this starting position would definitely be his to lose. The frontrunners seem to be Wartman and rising redshirt sophomore Ben Kline. Wartman could be considered the favorite due to the fact that he played immediately in the 2012 season opener against Ohio. His impact was felt right away, as he blocked a punt that set up a Penn State touchdown. Unfortunately, Wartman suffered a knee injury in the Nittany Lions’ game against Virginia that derailed his season. The injury forced Bill O’Brien to not play Wartman the rest of the season and use a medical redshirt on him. This is where Kline has the advantage, as he has more game experience than Wartman.
Other than Kline, true freshmen Brandon Bell and Zayd Issah could surprise and challenge Wartman for that outside linebacker spot. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden doesn’t have the most experience in this particular unit, but he has a good core of young players to develop. And no one does a better job of coaching up linebackers like Vanderlinden. Other names that you could possibly hear with this linebacker group are Drew Boyce and Gary Wooten.
No matter who flanks Carson at the other outside linebacker spot, Penn State fans shouldn’t worry. Wartman should have confidence heading into spring practice because the staff saw enough in him to play him as a true freshman. And Kline has seen the field enough where he will make an impact even if he doesn’t win the starting job. Defensive coordinator John Butler and Vanderlinden will do a good job of preparing whoever that third starter is. Whether it’s Wartman, Kline or someone else, Linebacker U should be in full force once again in 2013.
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