Penn State Preview 2006 - Defense
Penn State Nittany Lions
Posted Aug 5, 2006

Penn State Nittany Lions Preview 2006 - PSU Defense

What you need to know ... It's not going to be anywhere near the killer D of the last few seasons with only four returning starters, but it's not going to fall off the map. It all begins and ends with one of the nation's best linebacking corps led by Butkus Award winner Paul Posluszny, who's expected to be fine after suffering a knee injury in the Orange Bowl. Tim Shaw and Dan Connor are tremendous producers who should get plenty of all-star honors. The secondary needs to be completely replaced, but the corners should be fine with Justin King getting the starting nod. Jay Alford is an all-star tackle who'll lead a decent line that should get better as the year goes on.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Paul Posluszny, 116
Sacks: Jay Alford, 8.5
Several at 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Paul Posluszny
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior FS Donnie Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Josh Gaines
Best pro prospect: Posluszny
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Posluszny, 2) DT Jay Alford, 3) LB Dan Connor
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:

Defensive Line
Penn State finished 11th in the nation in sacks and first in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, but now it loses top tackle Scott Paxson and top ends Tamba Hali and Scott Rice. Jay Alford will be one of the nation's better all-around defensive linemen, but he's the only returning starter. Even though there are good prospects and plenty of hope for the gaps to be quickly filled, this isn't going to be last year's line.
The key to the unit: Be disruptive. The back seven was able to produce as well as it has been over the last two years because of everything the front four was able to do, and this year's group has to get in the backfield and blow things up.
Defensive Line Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- DE Josh Gaines, Soph. - 9 tackles
The Academic All-Big Ten performer will have to try to replace all-everything star Tamba Hali on the left side. He's 263 pounds with good quickness, but he's not necessarily a natural pass rusher. At least not yet. He saw a little bit of experience as a freshman and should be solid against the run.

- DT Jay Alford, Sr. - 37 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
The Second Team All-Big Ten performer is the only returning starter on the line and should be one of the nation's best all-around tackles. He's not a huge space-eater at 6-3 and 288 pounds, and he's tremendously quick on the inside. When he gets on a roll, he can dominate. Now he has to show he can handle all the attention of being the focus of every team's blocking scheme.

- DT Ed Johnson, Sr.
Out of the mix last year after leaving school, the 6-1, 290-pound Johnson will replace Scott Paxson on the right side. He'll make most of his big plays against the run with enough experience, making 21 tackles in 2004, to fill in and be decent right away.

- DE Jim Shaw, Sr. - 6 tackles, 1 sack
Shaw, the brother of offensive lineman, John Shaw, came to Penn State from Rice and made six tackles and a sack last season. Now he'll need to prove right off the bat that he can be consistent. He can play tackle if needed, but the 264-pound senior is a more effective end.

Top Backups
- DE Mike Lucian, Soph. - 5 tackles
A quick, physical end option on the right side, at 276 pounds he's bigger than projected starter Jim Shaw on the right side. Big enough to play tackle, he could be moved inside for a few plays to add more quickness.
- DT Steve Roach, Sr. - 1 tackle
Expected to become a top contributor last year, the 6-2, 308-pound senior saw time in eight games and didn't do much of anything. He's the team's biggest body on the inside and should see far more time in the rotation.
- DT Elijah Robinson, Soph.
A bulked up defensive end, the 6-2, 287-pound sophomore will battle with Ed Johnson for the right tackle job. With his quickness, he should be able to grow into a decent interior pass rusher.

This should be one of the nation's best linebacking corps if and when Paul Posluszny comes back healthy from the knee injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. Tim Shaw and Dan Connor don't get the publicity of Posluszny (at least, in Connor's case, positive publicity), but they're almost as effective. These three should come close to cranking out 300 tackles and should clean several mistakes made by the young defensive line. The backups are more than solid with three good prospects looking for time to try and be more in the mix in 2007.
The key to the unit: Paul Posluszny's knee. All reports have come back positive, so if he's the same player he was last year, this could be the best linebacking corps in Penn State's illustrious history.
Linebacker Rating: 10

Projected Starters
- Paul Posluszny, Sr. - 116 tackles, 3 sacks, 11 TFL, 3 broken up passes
The Butkus Award winner as the nation's best linebacker last season, Posluszny has 256 career tackles and should finish his great career with well over 350 if he can return 100% from a knee injury suffered in the Orange Bowl. Considered a likely first round draft pick if he had come out early, even with the knee injury, he's a smart, tough tackler who's always in the right position and is always around the ball. He had 22 stops against Northwestern and 14 in the huge win over Ohio State.

- Tim Shaw, Sr. - 76 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
Able to play outside or in, Shaw was the unsung star of the linebacking corps with so much attention given to Paul Posluszny. The 237-pound senior started the first of the last season on the outside and was a disruptive force, and then he became a steady tackler in the middle finishing tied for fourth on the team.

- Dan Connor, Jr. - 76 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 8 broken up passes
Connor tied Tim Shaw for fourth on the team in tackles despite not starting on the outside until sixth game of the year and being suspended for the first three games after getting caught firing out crank phone calls. The former freshman All-American has 161 tackles over his first two seasons thanks mostly to his excellent speed. A tough 6-3 and 225 pounds, he can play inside if needed.

Top Backups
- Tyrell Sales, Soph. - 19 tackles, 2 TFL
The Academic All-Big Ten performer saw plenty of time with three starts in place of Dan Connor. Even though he played in every game, the 234-pound sophomore saw his production fall off the map once Connor returned. He'll see most of his time on special teams early on.
- Sean Lee, Soph. - 11 tackles
The former top high school running back turned into a nice backup linebacker on the outside last season seeing time in four games. He was more than solid stepping in for Paul Posluszny in the Orange Bowl making five tackles. Even though he's only 222 pounds, he's a good hitter with the range to be a good pass rusher when he gets a chance.
- Dontey Brown, Soph. - 7 tackles
The promising 235-pound sophomore brings a little more speed to the mix in the middle behind Tim Shaw. He'll eventually be one of the team's top tacklers, but he'll have to settle for being a key backup and a dangerous special teamer.

Defensive Backs
The entire secondary that finished 14th in the nation and first in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense has to be replaced. Justin King is a sure-thing star in the making at one corner, and then everything else is up for grabs as the Nittany Lions look to replace four reliable, durable producers. Corner should be fine, but safety will be a little bit of a concern with seniors Nolan McCready and Donnie Johnson needing to prove that they're ready for prime time. Expect several position battles this fall before the season opener.
The key to the unit: The secondary made a big points of forcing more big plays last season, but they could do that with all of their experience to rely on. This year's group has to focus on just being consistent.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Justin King, Soph. - 11 tackles, 2 broken up passes, 10 catches, 126 yds, 2 TD
One of last year's top recruits turned into a nice backup corner and a dangerous receiver spending most of his time on offense over the second half of last season. He's a fantastic all-around athlete with next level speed and enough size to handle himself well against the bigger receivers. While he wasn't able to crack the starting lineup last season. he'll be expected to become the team's best cover-corner taking over for Anwar Phillips on the right side..

- Hero Nolan McCready, Sr. - 9 tackles, 1 interception
McCready didn't see too much time last year playing behind Calvin Lowry, but he made a bit of an impact picking off a pass for a 76-yard touchdown against Illinois. He's a good-hitting Academic All-Big Ten performer who needs to be consistent if he can't crank out the big plays Lowry did.

- FS Donnie Johnson, Sr. - 8 tackles, 2 broken up passes, 1 interception
Johnson saw more time over the second half of last season when Justin King moved over to offense. He has mostly been a big-play special teams performer so far and should be better this year as a defender now that he knows what he's doing after moving over from wide receiver early in his career.

- CB Tony Davis, Soph. - 4 tackles, 1 interception
Can Davis be close to as good as Alan Zemaitis has been over the last few years? He's a decent-sized 193 pounds with good quickness who mostly saw time in blowouts last season. Can he grow into a ball-hawker when he gets picked on? Teams are going to stay away from Justin King, and Davis has to take advantage.

Top Backups
- Hero Anthony Scirrotto, Soph.
A tremendously productive high-school quarterback and defensive back, the 6-0, 192-pound Scirrotto is a good athlete who'll push hard for time at strong safety behind Nolan McCready. He'll also be a top special teamer.
- FS Mark Rubin, Soph.
Expected to be in the starting mix as a wide receiver last season, Rubin dislocated his ankle and missed the season after catching 16 passes for 187 yards in 2004. With the receiving corps looking more than solid, the 6-2, 213-pound sophomore will use his speed at free safety behind Donnie Johnson.

Special Teams
If placekicker Kevin Kelly can build on his decent freshman season, this should be a great group. Punter Jeremy Kapinos is among the nation's best, Derrick Williams and Justin King are explosive kickoff returners, and Anthony Scirrotto should be a solid punt returner. The overall coverage could stand to be better, but the Nittany Lions should make up for any problems with some timely blocked kicks.
The key to the unit: A bit more production in all areas. The special teams are rock solid, but they can be amazing with just a few more big plays in every phase.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Kevin Kelly, Soph. - 16-23 FGs, 99 extra points
Kelly had a sensational true freshman season, but will be mostly known for surviving the battle in struggling kickers in the Orange Bowl. He has decent range and proved to be able to handle pressure well most of the time. If he could survive the Florida State game, he should be fine for more big Big Ten battles.
- P Jeremy Kapinos, Sr. - 61 punts, 2,522 yds, 41.3 ypc, 22 inside the 20
One of the nation's best punters, Kapinos has averaged 41.7 yards per kick over the past three years while consistently being great at putting teams inside the 20. He should be in the hunt for the Ray Guy Award.

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