Next up in our early preview of positions for 2014 is linebacker.
Penn State has been known throughout the years for having a talented core of linebackers. Last season was the first time in a while that the Nittany Lions did not have a star player in the group and struggled with some depth issues. The best of the bunch in 2012 was middle linebacker Glenn Carson. Though he is no longer around, adding to the depth problem, the Nittany Lions do have some experience returning, including two starters from a year ago.
The top returning player is Mike Hull. He was slowed by an injury last season but he’s got a lot of skill and could be in line for a big senior season. In 2012 he started nine games and although he completely missed two contests, he still finished second on the team with 78 total tackles. Hull will be counted on as a leader on defense in 2014.
Joining Hull as a returning starter is Nyeem Wartman. The outside linebacker made eight starts last year and finished with 32 total tackles. Wartman has the build and the ability to be a productive linebacker, he just needs to realize his full potential in 2014. He should enter the season as one of the starting at outside linebackers opposite of Hull.
The middle linebacker spot left vacant by the departure of Carson will be the biggest hole heading into the season. The frontrunner at the start of spring practice will likely be Brandon Bell. As a true freshman last year, he appeared in nine games and started the season finale at Wisconsin. he finished with 24 total tackles on the year, including a season-high six in the game against the Badgers.
Gary Wooten, who appeared in nine games in 2013, will also compete for a spot at middle linebacker.
The only other linebacker with playing experience at the collegiate level is senior Ben Kline. He’s dealt with injuries during his time at Penn State, but has seen playing time on special teams and at linebacker. Last season he played in six games, making two starts. He will get playing time at outside linebacker this season.
Penn State’s 2014 recruiting class includes three linebackers. 3-star Troy Reeder and 3-star Jason Cabinda could battle in practice for a spot in the rotation. 4-star athlete Koa Farmer, who decided on the Nittany Lions after James Franklin took over, is a talented player who has a chance to make a big impact at linebacker in 2014. He’s could be much like Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was last season, seeing time at both safety and linebacker.
Although depth could be an issue at linebacker for the Nittany Lions this season, there are some talented players that could make the unit stronger than some may project in 2014.
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