The Penn State Nittany Lions enter the upcoming season under new leadership. This marks an exciting time at Penn State, in spite of the NCAA sanctions that are still hanging over the program. Due to those sanctions though, the depth chart, especially on the defensive side, has some spots that will take some creativity to fill. Head coach James Franklin and his coaching staff, namely defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has several options at different defensive positions this season.
Heading into spring practice there are only a handful of sure things on the defense. Only defensive ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, defensive tackle Austin Johnson, linebacker Mike Hull and cornerback Jordan Lucas are locked in as clear starters at their positions.
On the defensive line there are several different combinations that could be used in 2014. While Barnes, Olaniyan and Johnson seem set as starters, the other tackle position, as well as the rotation off the bench is up for grabs. Tarow Barney, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia will all see time at defensive tackle. Of the group, Barney, the junior college transfer, could have the best opportunity to start. Veteran Anthony Zettel, who’s bulked up over the offseason, could switch from defensive end and see significant time at tackle.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Sickels will provide some depth at end while true freshman Antoine White could be needed at defensive tackle in 2014.
Linebacker is perhaps the biggest question mark on the defense.
Mike Hull, though returning from an injury-laden 2013 season, is the only clear starting linebacker in the group. He will start at outside linebacker and be looked to as a leader. The remaining outside spot, as well as the inside linebacker position has no clear-cut starter. Returning players Gary Wooten, Nyeem Wartman, Brandon Bell and Ben Kline will all be in the linebacker rotation. Once the true freshmen arrive on campus in the summer, Koa Farmer and Jason Cabinda will also be in the linebacker mix.
The linebacker position provides the coaching staff with the most variety of options and combinations of skill, speed and size.
Like at linebacker, the defensive backfield provides different combinations depending on how well some of the guys perform in practice. Lucas is the only defensive back who’s firmly entrenched in his position at cornerback. Senior Adrian Amos, the leader of the group, was moved from cornerback to safety last year. However, if none of the other corners are able to be effective, Amos may need to be moved back to his natural position.
Because of how thin the Nittany Lions are in the secondary, defensive backs were a priority in the 2014 recruiting class. Of the incoming freshman, there are five or six that could potentially find a home in the defensive backfield., including the 4-star Farmer who could play safety or linebacker.
It will certainly take some time to find the best fit for everyone on the defense. Expect to see Franklin experiement with several different combinations this spring and even more yet once practice kicks off in the summer.
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