2013 Penn State Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lion Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: New defensive coordinator John Butler welcomes in plenty of starting experience, but he's missing stars and doesn't have much depth to play around with. Linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges are gone along with tackle Jordan Hill, and now the hope is for Glenn Carson and Mike Hull go become stars in the linebacking corps and for DaQuan Jones to be an all-star anchor up front. On the positive side, the pass rush that led the Big Ten last season should be fantastic with Deion Barnes a rising star on one side and the athletic C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel two specialists combining forces on the other. The secondary welcomes back three starters, but there's no depth and it's a mediocre unit that doesn't do enough to take the ball away.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Glenn Carson
Tackles: Glenn Carson, 85
Sacks: Deion Barnes, 6
Interceptions: Adrian Amos, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman DT Austin Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Deion Barnes
Best pro prospect: Senior DT DaQuan Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carson, 2) LB Mike Hull, 3) Jones
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Depth, Star Power
The defense that was so soft early on got nasty as the season went on helped by a tremendous pass rush led by Deion Barnes, a 6-4, 244-pound sophomore who turned in a terrific true freshman season with 25 tackles and a team-leading six sacks, ten tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Fast, he's built like an outside linebacker with a devastating burst off the ball. He announced his arrival with two sacks against Virginia, and he showed up big late with sacks against Nebraska and Indiana in back-to-back games. While he can be erased by a big block, and he's not a top run defender, he's a disruptive force who has to be accounted for.
Needing to grow into more of a force on the other side is 6-3, 256-pound junior C.J. Olaniyan, a career reserve with decent size making 15 tackles with a sack in a limited role. The ability and athleticism are there, but it hasn't come together yet for the one-time star prospect. He'll be pushed by 6-4, 254-pound sophomore Anthony Zettel, a four-star recruit who showed glimpses of his potential as a situational pass rusher with 15 tackles and four sacks led by two against Navy. He's not a blazer, but he has a high motor and gets off the ball well.
With anchor Jordan Hill gone from the inside, 6-3, 333-pound DaQuan Jones needs to be the main man for the line to work around after doing a nice job holding up making 22 tackles with a half a sack. The former offensive line man isn't the interior pass rusher that Hill was and he won't be as active, but he's a bigger, stronger force who everything will work around. 6-4, 309-pound Derek Dowrey wasn't a top recruit, but he's a decent big body who needs to play big inside in a rotation with Jones. He's not a space-eater, but he has to be good for a few plays here and there at both tackle spots with good strength and a little bit of quickness.
At 6-4 and 302 pounds, Austin Johnson isn't a massive presence on the inside, but the former offensive guard is a beefed up, strong interior option who'll have to show early on that he can be a factor against the run. It's going to be a little while, but there's excellent upside. Providing a little more of a burst in the interior behind Johnson will be 6-5, 242-pound junior Kyle Bublitz, a former defensive end who bulked up and moved inside, but he has to hold up after seeing time in just six games making three tackles and a sack.
Watch Out For … Garrett Sickels, a fantastic pass rushing prospect with 6-4, 238-pound size and dangerous athleticism off the edge. A pure sacker, he has the instincts and the closing ability to be a specialist right away in the rotation.
Strength: Pass rush. It'll come from all sides and the linebacking corps, but the line should do its part for the defense that led the Big Ten in sacks. The coaching staff will make up for the lack of overall talent up front with aggressiveness.
Weakness: Depth. The starting four will be a tad bit shaky by Penn State standards, and the depth is a big question mark, especially at tackle. It'll take a little while to find the right combination, and there could be major problems if injuries strike early on.
Outlook: The front four struggled early and got strong late, but the loss of Jordan Hill is big. Jones has to be an all-star in the interior and Barnes and Olaniyan have to be terrors on the outside on a consistent basis. There will be times when this group gets hammered on, but overall the production and numbers will be decent as long as everyone stays healthy.
Unit Rating: 7
The linebacking corps has to replace heart-and-soul leader Michael Mauti and leading tackler Gerald Hodges, but it gets back a terrific starter in Glenn Carson, a 6-3, 235-pound senior who spent most of his time on the outside but will work in the middle after making 85 tackles with one sack with three tackles for loss. Very active and very quick, he could be used more as a pass rusher from time to time, but his job will be to hold up against the run inside. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 235-pound redshirt freshman Gary Wooten, a tough Miami native with the upside and hitting ability to eventually be the team's top tackler.
6-1, 236-pound redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman was a nice three-star pickup last season, and while he might not have the tools of some of the better Penn State linebacker prospects. He has the size and the range to grow into a role on the outside. He'll have to hold off Ben Kline, a 6-2, 224-pound sophomore who came up with a nice first year as a reserve making 18 tackles. Very smart, he makes up for his lack of size by always being in the right spot.
Junior Mike Hull stepped into the starting mix after Michael Mauti got hurt and finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles with four sacks and five tackles for loss. His big highlight was a 74-yard fumble return for a score against Navy, but he proved to be more valuable for the run defense late in the season with 11 stops against Indiana and 29 stops over the last four games. At 6-0 and 226 pounds he's not that huge, but he can move and is a nice all-around weakside defender.
Watch Out For … Zayd Issah, a 6-3, 215-pound athlete who'll eventually pack on 15 pounds of good weight to be a killer either inside or out. Part running back and part linebacker in high school, he ran for 47 touchdowns in his final two years, but with his tackling ability he'll shine on defense.
Strength: The starting three. Hull might not be Mauti, but he's a proven veteran who can put up huge numbers on the outside. Carson will be more than fine in the middle.
Weakness: Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Yes, the starting three will be fine, but without the two stars the linebacking corps won't be among the elite. Beyond just the 204 combined tackles and five of the team's ten interceptions, these two were team leaders who gave the defense a nasty tone.
Outlook: There are still some decent defenders back for the linebacking corps, but the depth is lacking and there will be very, very big problems if injuries strike early on. This will be an active, big-tackling group that will swarm around the ball and come up with big numbers, but there's a big drop-off in overall talent and leadership.
Unit Rating: 7
The Nittany Lions didn't give up too many big plays and did a nice job overall, and now it gets back three starters led by the versatile Adrian Amos, a likely starting corner who could be moved over to safety. At 6-0 and 209 pounds he's built like a strong safety with good hitting ability making 44 tackles, and he does a decent job when the ball is in the air with two picks and three broken up passes. No matter where he is, he'll be the key piece to the secondary. If he's at safety, former receiver Malik Golden and freshman Jordan Smith will be thrown to the wolves on the outside.
It'll be a fight for the starting corner gig on the other side between sophomores Da'Quan Davis and Jordan Lucas. The 5-10, 164-pound Davis is rail-thin, but he did a nice job when he got his chances breaking up three passes with five tackles in his limited time. Lucas is a bigger 6-0, 185-pound who's a safety by nature but will be tried out on the outside. He'll find a place somewhere in the secondary.
5-10, 207-pound senior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong went from being a special teamer to a decent starting safety making 41 tackles with four broken up passes. A terrific hitter, he also has the speed and range to do far more as one of the veteran leaders in the secondary. Former wide receiver Trevor Williams is a tall 6-1, 180-pound option with great athleticism and upside, but he needs lots and lots of time and seasoning.
5-11, 215-pound senior Malcolm Willis turned into an unsung starter making 45 tackles, but he didn't do nearly enough against the pass and has to start generating more big plays. A good tackling free safety, he's active and tough, but he'll have to be a bigger factor helping out the corners.
Watch Out For … the wide receivers. The recruiting class was painfully thin at defensive back, and there isn't much in the way of proven depth, so the coaching staff has to get creative. Golden and Williams are built like wideouts, but the receiving corps is one of the team's biggest strengths. The former receivers have to be factors as soon as possible.
Strength: The pass rush. The secondary will get lots and lots of help from an aggressive front seven that will sell out to get into the backfield. The Penn State defense led the Big Ten in sacks, and it should be dangerous again.
Weakness: Interceptions. The Nittany Lions only came up with ten interceptions as team, and the secondary managed to come up with three of them with Amos coming up with two.
Outlook: The secondary has been helped in a big way by not facing too many teams able to throw a forward pass. Last year, one of the best passing teams on the slate was Indiana, and it showed as the secondary was burned for 454 yards. It'll be a decent statistical season, but overall the secondary is thin and average despite the return of three starters.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Junior Sam Ficken bounced back in a big way after the disastrous performance in the loss to Virginia to finish the season with 14-of-21 field goals going 10-of-10 over the final five games, He doesn't have any range whatsoever, and he can't be used from beyond 40 yards, but he showed good mental toughness and nice consistency from short range.
Senior punter Alex Butterworth put 19 kicks inside the 20, but he averaged a horrible 37.4 yards per kick and didn't come up with any blast with just five kicks from beyond 50 yards. The punting game wasn't exactly a glaring weakness, but he has to bail the team out of more jams.
Safety Jesse Della Valle was the main punt returner averaging just 7.6 yards per try, but he was great on kickoff returns averaging 25.2 yards per pop. Running back Bill Belton struggled way too much as the main kickoff returner averaging a mere 15.6 yards per try.
Watch Out For … Chris Gulla. It's Ficken's kicking job, but if Gulla, a walk-on, can show any semblance of a big leg, and if Ficken has the Virginia yips again, all of a sudden the kicking situation could change.
Strength: Ficken from close. For all the problems and all the issues, Ficken did a nice job from inside the 35 and turned into a reliable kicker. If he could get through the problems of the first half of last season, he can get through anything.
Weakness: Coverage teams. There's no proven deep leg on the roster at punter or kicker, and the return game is mediocre, but the coverage teams were the big issue. Allowing 9.8 yards per punt return wasn't too miserable, but the kickoff coverage was awful giving up 23.1 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams have been a big issue over the last few years and they were a major problem last season. There's a little bit of hope with both kickers back, and this is an area of concern for the coaching staff, but it's not going to be a positive.
Unit Rating: 5
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