Penn State Football 2017 Position Preview: Defensive Line

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: Curtis Cothran
PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: Curtis Cothran /

Lost amongst all the offensive hoopla stands a hungry Penn State football defensive line. The unit lost a couple of key guys but make no mistake it’s strong.

It’s difficult to say how valuable Penn State football’s defensive line was last year. They didn’t put up big numbers and didn’t carry big names, but it’s sum of all their moving parts. The front four kept constant pressure with fresh legs from seven different returners.

First off, both starting interior linemen return in defensive tackles Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren. The similarly named duo recorded 10 total tackles for loss and 47 total tackles making constant disruption in the backfield. Cothran is the athletic run stopper with a slimmer build at 6-foot-5, 280-pounds. He embarrassed Wisconsin’s O-line making five tackles including three for loss.

Cothren brings more of the beef up front at 295-pounds, and he frees up a lot of players to make plays elsewhere. He managed to make some plays in the backfield as well with three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Moving onto the depth, Penn State football carries polar opposite backups in Robert Windsor and Kevin Givens. Windsor fills up space on the interior and showed the potential to be a future starter. And, he still has the athleticism to make plays all across the field and run down the ballcarrier anywhere.

On the other hand, Givens looks like a man without a position. He entered Happy Valley as a defensive end but moved to defensive tackle for his redshirt freshman season. The former high school fullback found his position inside as a pass rusher recording five sacks in just six starts. His freakish athletic ability makes him a possible superstar in this defense.

Outside needs to gain ground

Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels left a heck of gap at defensive end and everyone knows that. A team can’t replace its top two pass rushers in one offseason, but it can split up the production. Penn State football brings three contributors at the end position and one promising prospect.

Torrence Brown spearheads the team in starting experience with four games. Brown, Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller combined for 41 games of in-game action making this a battle-tested group. Brown and Miller could almost double as linebackers with their size. They’re both listed in the 250-pound range and are lengthy enough to get into the backfield. Their speed makes them a dangerous combination.

Buchholz looks more like a prototypical 4-3 defensive end and he’ll provide the muscle on defense.  He’s a physical presence that defenses will have to account for just like the speed from Miller and Brown. This trio accounted for 61 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, so the production and skill set is there.

Related Story: Penn State Football 2017 Position Preview: Wide Receiver

Shane Simmons will be the final player to watch. The DeMatha product displayed great pass-rushing skills and hands in high school. If he can continue his progression, this defense will feature a strong, complete two-deep defensive line.