Easily the most fun position group to talk about in Penn State football is the defensive line. The Nittany Lions carry depth for days.
One thing that separates Penn State football from many other team is the team’s defensive line philosophy. The Nittany Lions don’t put forward one or two standout defensive linemen. Instead, it’s a group effort spearheaded by defensive coordinator Brent Pry and defensive line coach Sean Spencer. The pass rushers and run stuffers along the line get a set amount of reps. It worked to the tune of 21.5 sacks coming just from the defensive line.
This list opens up with edge rusher and returning sack leader Shareef Miller. The junior pass rusher had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, coming off the edge. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, he is a prototypical speedster in the 4-3 defense. He can zoom upfield and make plays against the run or pass. He’ll start as one of the defensive ends.
Opposite the speedy pass rusher is a run-stuffing monster in Ryan Buchholz. The 6-foot-6, 273-pound, run buster can single-handedly end run plays and make ballcarriers feel the pain with his strength. Entering his junior year, he’s got 33 career tackles and four sacks to his name.
Inside, the D-Line does have to replace two now-graduated defensive tackle starters in Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran. This is where Spencer and Pry’s rotation pays off. Juniors Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor slot in and don’t drop off production-wise.
Both played significant time over the past few seasons and essentially give the defensive line all four starters back. Givens is a pass rush specialist inside with 50 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a reserve player. No one can confuse that with a drop in play. The sawed-off, speedy tackle is scary especially in stunts.
If a player tries to block him inside or outside, he’ll slash by and make the play. Windsor is the opposite but a handful in his own right. As the biggest starter on the D-Line (6-foot-4, 295 pounds), he demands attention. He has 42 career tackles and is a true 4-3 defensive tackle inside.
Between the two new DT starters, the team is set up front, boasting production, experience and youth at the same time. All four players are juniors and could be back for another year which makes this unit all the more dangerous for the Big Ten.
Penn State football has built its successful defensive line through its continued rotation of players. Senior Torrence Brown heads up the reserves after a successful three-year career. After suffering a season-ending injury last fall, he’s back with 52 career tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss to his name.
Brown is rangy, speedy end, and he’ll be a key leader for four star-studded sophomores in Daniel Joseph, Yetur Gross-Matos, Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney. Those four will be huge in furthering the depth for Penn State. They rolled up a combined 60 tackles, double-digit tackles for loss and just under 10 sacks. Between those four and fellow sophomore defensive tackles, Antonio Shelton this defensive line is loaded.
The Big Ten knows this group is special but can it prepare for so many hungry defensive linemen? Few teams can boast as many athletic pass rushers and run stuffers that Penn State football does.