2010 Penn State Preview – Defense
Penn State DE Ollie Ogbu & Jack Crawford
Penn State DE Ollie Ogbu & Jack Crawford
Posted Jun 2, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Penn State Nittany Lion Defense

Penn State Nittany Lions

Preview 2010 - Defense

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- 2010 Penn State Defense | 2010 Penn State Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has some work to do with the linebacking corps, and the depth is lacking in the secondary, but it'll once again be another year when Penn State finishes in the top ten in total defense (it was ninth last year) and it'll once again be strong across the board. The linebackers won't be anywhere near as good without Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee, and Josh Hull, and there could be a big problem if Michael Mauti isn't back to form after suffering a torn ACL last August. Fortunately, the defensive line will take care of most of the work with one of the best rotations in years. Jack Crawford leads a tremendous group of pass rusher on the outside, while there's a nice group of tackles with excellent size and upside working behind Ollie Ogbu and Devon Still. The starting foursome in the secondary will be among the most productive in the Big Ten, but there will be major problems, especially at safety, if injuries strike.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Nick Sukay, 41
Sacks: Jack Crawford, 5.5
Interceptions: Nick Sukay, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jack Crawford
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Chris Colasanti
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Stephon Morris
Best pro prospect: Crawford
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Crawford, 2) CB D'Anton Lynn, 3) SS Drew Astorino
Strength of the defense: Defensive Line, Tackling
Weakness of the defense: Backup Safety, Linebacker Talent Drop-Off

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The hope was for Jack Crawford to be the next in the long line of superstar Penn State pass rushers, and he delivered with 5.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, and 31 tackles. The 6-5, 256-pound junior has next-level pass rushing skills and a quick burst off the ball, and he's just scratching the surface. After coming to the U.S. from England, he has only been playing for a few years and has mostly gotten by on tremendous athleticism. Once it all comes together and he refines his technique, he's going to be yet another NFL draft pick to come from the Nittany Lion front four. With a high motor and a great work ethic, he'll make himself even better.

Working on the other side after starting five of the first six games at left end is Eric Latimore , a 6-6, 270-pound junior who's more like a 3-4 end than a 4-3 pass rusher. While he has great athleticism and the raw speed to get to the quarterback once he gets a first step, he made 3.5 sacks with six tackles for loss and 21 tackles. Now with Jerome Hayes gone, it'll be Latimore's time to shine in the full-time role for the entire season.

6-1, 285-pound senior Ollie Ogbu isn't flashy and he's always going to be overshadowed by others on the line, but he's great at getting into the backfield and he's a tough, strong producer on the inside making 30 tackles with two sacks and eight tackles for loss last year. With a great motor, he's always working and he's always playing to the whistle. A steady starter for the last two years, he knows what he's doing and he'll be the anchor everything revolves around.

Trying to take over for all-star Jared Odrick at tackle will be Devon Still , a fantastic prospect who appears to be ready to shine with a bigger role. The 6-5, 294-pound junior tore up his knee as a freshman and followed it up with a broken ankle. He needed a few years to get back into the swing of things, and now he's ready to be a rock. Last year he got a chance to become part of the rotation without having to handle too much of the workload, making 19 tackles with two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, and he was great getting the start in bowl win over LSU. He's big, disruptive, and has an NFL future if he can stay healthy and if he can keep progressing.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior end Kevion Latham is a nice reserve and a strong spot starter who can be used as a speed rusher. At 6-2 and 254 pounds he's not huge, but he's extremely quick off the ball and smart enough to take the right angles and come in cold and shine. He made just eight tackles with1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss in his time, and mostly worked on special teams, but he'll be a playmaker whenever he gets on the field.

6-1, 305-pound sophomore Jordan Hill wasn't supposed to see any action last year, but he ended up being too good to keep off the field. With his size and his quickness, he has the ability to be a big, tough interior presence working in a rotation with Ollie Ogbu. He had a decent true freshman season making 12 tackles with a sack in his limited work, and now he's going to be a rock against the run whenever he's in.

Sophomore James Terry didn't see the action that Jordan Hill did, but he's expected to become just as strong a presence on the inside. He only saw four games of action and made two tackles with a sack, but at 6-3 and 303 pounds he's very big, very tough, and he has been a brick wall this offseason against the run. He's not going to be much of a factor in the backfield, but as a backup tackle he can be stuck in the middle of the line and can be great for a few plays here and there.

6-1, 232-pound sophomore Sean Stanley might get lost in the shuffle a bit with so many good ends, but he's a pass rusher who finds ways to get to the quarterback when he gets his chances. Extremely quick, he made 11 tackles with two sacks as a true freshman and will eventually be yet another star pass rusher once he gets more opportunities.

Watch Out For … The backup defensive tackles. Ogbu and Still are strong starters who'll be excellent at both stopping the run and getting into the backfield, but Hill and Terry are big bodies who'll come in and stuff everything on the inside. For good (for the defense) and bad (the offense), the Nittany Lion running game did nothing in offseason practices when the two young 300-pounders were in.
Strength: Depth and pass ability. The Nittany Lions will get to the quarterback from all four spots and have too many great ends to get on the field at the same time. The second team can step in and produce without that much of a drop off.
Weakness: Good teams. Yes, the overall stats were amazing finishing first in the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for loss and second against the run, but Ohio State, Iowa, and even Illinois were able to run the ball. This is a great line that gets a wee bit overrated because it stuffs all the mediocre teams.
Outlook: Even with the loss of Jared Odrick from the middle, with time this might turn out to be the deepest and best Nittany Lion line in years. While that might seem like a wee bit of a stretch considering the lack of superstar power outside of Crawford, but the tackles are deep, there are too many good pass rushing ends to get on the field at once, and there's a great combination of youth and experience. The scary part is that there's only one senior (Ogbu) on the projected two-deep.
Unit Rating: 9


Projected Starters: The key to the rebuilding of the linebacking corps will be where Michael Mauti plays. Projected to be the new star of the group last year, he suffered a torn ACL before the season and missed the entire season. Ahead of schedule, he'll be back and will work at one of the three spots. The 6-2, 231-pound sophomore is a big hitter and extremely tough, but he has to find a home, probably on the outside, and he has to prove that his knee is ready to hold up.

If Mauti doesn't start in the middle it'll be senior Chris Colasanti , a decent inside presence who worked as a reserve making 18 tackles with a sack. The 6-2, 238-pounder is a big hitter and a tough tackler against the run, but he has limited range and he isn't going to do much in the backfield. He's a central casting middle linebacker with no neck and a thick body, but he's hardly a prototypical jock with the smarts to be in the hunt for Academic All-America honors.

6-1, 236-pound junior Nathan Stupar has the potential to be the best all-around linebacking corps with good ability to get into the backfield and with fantastic range. More like a small defensive end than a true linebacker, he's growing into the position making 31 tackles with a sack last year as a key reserve. He started two games early on against Syracuse and Temple making 12 tackles against the Zips when Navorro Bowman was out. Early on his career he showed an uncanny ability to get to the punter, and now he should be one of the team's top tacklers.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Bani Gbadyu could end up starting on the weakside if Michael Mauti ends up in the middle. At 6-1 and 231 pounds he has excellent size and great athleticism, but he's not always consistent and he sometimes disappears when he's on the field. He can play either outside spot and he's a sure, tough tackler with great range and pass rushing potential, but now he needs a starting job.

6-2, 220-pound sophomore Gerald Hodges is a former safety who saw time right away as a true freshman making three tackles in a limited role. A big hitter for his size, he's like a guided missile when he's on the move and he should be a key part of the rotation on the strongside working behind Nathan Stupar. However, he might end up moving to the defensive backfield if others emerge as possible options.

Sophomore Michael Yanich is a high-energy tackler who gets all over the field on hustle and athleticism. A better athlete than Chris Colasanti in the middle, he could be used more as a pass rusher and against the quicker teams. At 6-2 and 223 pounds, he's not as big, but he's quicker and more versatile.

Watch Out For … Mauti. When he was healthy, he had the potential to be the team's best linebacker and that included Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee. While he has made a tremendous recovery in a big hurry, it's still asking a lot for him to be back to form so quickly.
Strength: Penn State. The hope is for the Linebacker U. moniker to be real. The school always replaces great players with more great players, and this year should be no different. Stupar is on the verge of being terrific and Colasanti will come up with ton of tackles by eating everything up in the middle. If Mauti is fine, he'll be great, too. In other words, Penn State simply reloads.
Weakness: Josh Hull, Novorro Bowman, and Sean Lee. They were 1-2-3 in tackling in that order combining for 295 tackles, seven sacks, 12 broken up passes, and 36.5 tackles for loss. Yeah, Penn State is a factory for great linebackers, but this was one of the team's biggest strengths going into last year and now it's a huge question mark.
Outlook: There will be a drop off in production. Hull and Lee were great, but the team has players like them able to step in and come up with the same sort of year. The same can't be said for the loss of Bowman who was a terror in the backfield and on the move. This will be a lunch bucket linebacking corps that comes up with stops and is great against the run, but it won't be splashy in any way.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Junior D'Anton Lynn should be the team's best corner, and he could turn out to be the most versatile defensive back with the potential to move to safety if needed. At 6-1 and 198 pounds, he has the size to go along with tremendous speed and good hitting ability. An honorable mention All-Big Ten performer, he came up with 35 tackles with five broken up passes, but he didn't come up with any interceptions. A good open field tackler, he could make a whale of a free safety, but he does too much against everyone's No. 1 receiver to be moved from the outside.

While Lynn is the team's shutdown corner, sophomore Stephon Morris could become the team's most complete defensive back. He stepped in as a true freshman and got a start against Michigan State finishing the season with 30 tackles with a sack and an interception. At 5-8 and 192 pounds he's not big, but he's quick, a willing tackler, and is fearless in run support. With his skills, he could end up being used as a returner and even on offense just to get the ball in his hands.

There's a chance for junior Drew Astorino to be one of the team's top tacklers if he can stay healthy. The 5-10, 194-pounder was out this offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, but he's expected to be back after finishing fourth on the team with 62 stops with four broken up passes and a pick. Always productive throughout his career whenever he has been on the field, he's a great athlete with limitless range at strong safety.

Junior free safety Nick Sukay was never healthy over the first part of his career, but he managed to be able to stay on the field for the entire year at the Hero, or free safety, making 41 tackles with 11 broken up passes and two picks. At 6-1 and 213 pounds he's a big defender who moves well all over the field. While he's fine against the run, he's terrific when the ball is in the air and is great at helping out the corners. Always around the ball, it was his fumble recovery that sealed the win over LSU.

Projected Top Reserves: In an interesting move that appeared to work out fine this offseason, last year's fourth leading receiver (with 28 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns), junior Chaz Powell , moved to corner and looked like a natural. He might not be ready to shine as a starter, but the 6-1, 197-pounder has the size and athleticism to be fine working behind D'Anton Lynn.

6-0, 174-pound redshirt freshman Derrick Thomas was predictably hit-or-miss in offseason practices, making a few huge plays here and there but getting beaten deep more than the other corners, but he has excellent skills and he could find a role as a nickel or dime defender when he's not working at corner.

Veteran safety Andrew Dailey moved over from linebacker last year and made just six tackles in his limited role. Originally a receiver when he joined the team, the 6-2, 217-pound junior has been a special teamer so far and now he's expected to play big role at strong safety with Drew Astorino having problems with his shoulder.

Watch Out For … Morris. While he's short and he's more plucky than purely talented, he's a terrific pure football player who's sensational and making things happen all over the field. He'll be an all-star as his reputation grows as the type of player every coach would love to have.
Strength: The starting four. Lynn, Sukay, Astorino, and Morris, if all are healthy, should form one of the Big Ten's best secondaries. There's talent, experience, and playmaking ability in the foursome and they should shine with a terrific pass rush helping the cause.
Weakness: Backup safety. The reserves are an issue across the board with Powell needing time and Thomas a boom-or-bust type, but the corners will turn out to be fine with a little more time. Safety is another story with Dailey still needing to prove he can play and sophomore Jacob Fagnano a question mark at strong safety.
Outlook: As long as the starters stay on the field, Penn State will finish in the top 15 in the nation in pass defense. Lynn and Morris are terrific and Sukay and Astorino are serviceable, if not special. There aren't a slew of big passing teams on the slate to deal with so the stats could be misleading, but the secondary will be fine as long as the pass rush is solid. As always with the Nittany Lion defensive backs, the stats will be better than the talent.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Former walk-on Collin Wagner wasn't fantastic, but he was decent hitting 15-of-22 field goals, including a 47-yard shot against Minnesota, and all 46 of his extra points. The senior doesn't have the biggest leg, but he's just good enough to be counted on in big games after nailing all four of his field goal attempts against LSU in the 19-17 bowl win.

There should be an interesting battle for the starting punting job with Russell Nye likely to get the first shot to replace Jeremy Boone. The Temple transfer is a far better option than WR Graham Zug, who'll be the emergency option, but he'll have a fight on his hands this fall to get the job.

The kickoff return game was a disaster averaging just 19.18 yards per try, good for last in the Big Ten and 107th in the nation. Receiver-turned-corner Chaz Powell stepped in and averaged 23.2 yards per try, but no one else produced when given the chance. Powell only got 16 of the 38 returns as teams tried to stay away from him.

The punt return game struggles with Graham Zug averaging 3.2 yards per try, and now it'll be up to Justin Brown to do more after averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. Tremendously quick, he has the skills to be a tremendous return man, but he needs a little room to move.

Watch Out For … Alex Butterworth. The true freshman will walk-on to the team with a shot at the starting punting job right away. He was going to kick for Purdue when Penn State came begging, and now there's a chance for him to push out Nye from the job after averaging 38.8 yards per kick for his high school team last year.
Strength: Powell. One of the only bright spots on the special teams last year, Powell was great when he got a chance to return kicks. The only problem was that he didn't always get the ball in his hands. He's a weapon who should average around 24 yards per pop.
Weakness: Punting, punting, punting. The return games were awful, but there's too much talent and quickness to have a repeat. The coverage teams were abysmal, but that can be quickly rectified with more work and focus. The punting game … uh oh. Even after finishing 114th in the nation last year, the punting game will still miss Jeremy Boone and his 43.3 yard gross average. The options are a backup placekicker, a wide receiver, or a true freshman walk-on. Again, uh oh.
Outlook: The special teams can't be worse. Wagner was fine at placekicker, but hardly special, while the punting game was 114th in the country, the punt return game was 106th, and the kickoff return team was 107th. The coverage units allowed a ridiculous 15.4 yards per punt return and 21.8 yards per kickoff return. Basically, there's work to be done.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2010 Penn State Preview | 2010 Penn State Offense
- 2010 Penn State Defense | 2010 Penn State Depth Chart
- Penn State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006