After taking an early look at all of the positions on the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to switch to defense. Now it’s time to take a look at a position that has been great for Penn State over the years: the defensive line.
Before discussing the players, one very notable thing about the Penn State defensive line is that the unit will have a different coach for the first time since 2000. Larry Johnson, who’s widely regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches and best recruiters in the country, left Penn State for fellow Big Ten member Ohio State. Obviously this was a blow for Penn State and a huge pickup for Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions’ new defensive line coach, Sean Spencer, has brought some great energy and passion to Happy Valley. Spencer’s popular nickname is “Coach Chaos,” which references his enthusiasm.
Even though the defensive line is going through a coaching coach for the first time in a while, a bunch of solid players will be back in 2014.
Junior defensive end Deion Barnes, who struggled last season after winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2012, will look to bounce back next season. Barnes recorded 10 TFL, six sacks and three forced fumbles his freshman year, while last season he only had four TFL, two sacks and one forced fumble. Another defensive end who will be counted on a lot next year is senior C.J. Olaniyan. Olaniyan, who was actually a very sought-after recruit, kind of came out of nowhere to have a great 2013 campaign. The Michigan native registered 50 total tackles (11 TFL), a team-leading five sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception, and will look to build on that in 2014. If Barnes can return to 2012 form and Olaniyan can continue his success from last season, those two should give the Nittany Lions a formidable starting duo coming off the edge.
One defensive end who might not start but will see a lot of playing time next season is junior Anthony Zettel. Zettel had six TFL, four sacks and one interception in 2013, and his versatility could also allow him to play defensive tackle at times. Look for redshirt freshmen Garrett Sickels, Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren, sophomore Evan Schwan and junior Carl Nassib to contribute in 2014, too.
On the interior, Penn State loses one of its best defensive players from 2013 in DaQuan Jones, as well as Kyle Baublitz, who was a solid defensive tackle in his own right. Jones, who was an All-Big Ten selection in 2013, recorded 56 total tackles, a team-leading 11.5 TFL and three sacks. Baublitz had 23 total tackles, three TFL and three sacks. With both of those guys not returning next year, look for sophomore Austin Johnson to come in and start after making 27 total tackles, three TFL and one sack last season. The other starting defensive tackle spot is up for grabs. The main guys who will compete for that spot will be sophomore Brian Gaia, sophomore Derek Dowrey and junior college transfer Tarow Barney.
The incoming 2014 recruiting class didn’t have a lot in terms of defensive linemen. Barney and New Jersey native Antoine White are the only defensive linemen in the class. Though Barney will see playing time next season, White might redshirt in 2014 because Penn State has decent depth at defensive tackle and he needs to get his weight up in order to play in the trenches in the Big Ten.
As of right now, defensive end is definitely more settled than defensive tackle. But Coach Spencer has lots of bodies to use and he will look to continue the tradition of great Nittany Lion defensive linemen.