Penn State 2017 Position Preview: Linebacker


The Penn State football program has long been known as ‘Linebacker U.’ What do the Nittany Lions have in store at linebacker for 2017? Well, let’s take a look at it.

In Brent Pry’s defense, strong linebacker player is vital to success. This was something that Penn State football fans saw in 2016 when there was a distinct difference between the defense’s effectiveness with and without its starting linebackers.

In 2017, Penn State will have a talented group of linebackers. While the preferable depth still is not quite there yet, lack of talent will not be an issue for Pry and the Nittany Lions. This linebacker crew should help give the Nittany Lions a strong defense in 2017.

Due to a slew of injuries a year ago, the Nittany Lions return four linebackers with starting experience this fall. However, they must replace Brandon Bell, who was a three-year starter and the leader of the defense in 2016.

The role of leader of the defense now falls on MIKE linebacker Jason Cabinda. Like Bell before him, Cabinda will become a three-year starter this fall. This includes also having played plenty as a true freshman in 2013.

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During the 2016 season there was a distinct difference between Penn State’s defense with and without Cabinda. In five games without Cabinda the Nittany Lions allowed 32.2 points and 402 yards per game last season, while they only allowed 22 points and 351.2 yards per game in the nine games he played in. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions were 8-1 with Jason Cabinda in the starting lineup and 3-2 without him.

Redshirt junior Koa Farmer and true junior Manny Bowen will flank Cabinda at linebacker this fall.

Farmer is coming off his first full season at linebacker and a season in which he played his way into a starting role. The uber athletic Farmer recorded 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, and a forced fumble in 2016.

As for Bowen, the former four-star recruit is coming off his first season as a starter. He registered 67 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and a pair of sacks in 2016. As the season progressed he began to play a large role in the defense, and the Nittany Lions missed him dearly in their three point Rose Bowl loss against USC.

This fall, look for Manny Bowen to begin to cement himself as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. He has all of the physical tools needed to do that, and he should be vastly improved in the mental state of the game this fall.

Former walk-on Brandon Smith is the fourth linebacker that returns with starting experience from 2016. Last fall, Smith came out of nowhere to become a key reserve on the Nittany Lion defense. Smith recorded 54 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and half a sack in 2016. He was also tied for the team lead in interceptions with a pair.

Junior Jake Cooper and sophomore Cam Brown will also see time at linebacker off the bench for the Nittany Lions. Cooper played in just four games due to injury in 2016 and recorded 15 tackles. As for Brown, he was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last fall due to injury and had a big season on special teams.

As for Brown, he was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last fall due to injury and had a big season on special teams. He finished the season with 33 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and half a sack. He also had a key blocked punt in the victory over Ohio State. Brown has great size and athleticism, this will make him a very good linebacker and soon for Penn State.

If injuries happen again in 2017, then true freshman Ellis Brooks could see playing time as well. However, the Nittany Lion coaching staff hopes to redshirt Brooks this fall.

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“Linebacker U” may not be super deep at linebacker in 2017, but they are very talented. If the Nittany Lions stay healthy at linebacker this fall, they should have one of the best linebacker groups in the Big Ten.