Penn State Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Defensive Players to Watch in 2012

John McGonigalCorrespondent IIAugust 26, 2012

Penn State Football: 5 Under-the-Radar Defensive Players to Watch in 2012

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    As anyone who follows sports know, Penn State was hit with massive sanctions by the NCAA via the Sandusky scandal fallout. 

    One of the biggest blows to the team was the ability for players to freely transfer to whatever school they desired. 

    While crucial offensive players like Silas Redd and Justin Brown jumped ship, the Penn State defense pretty much stayed intact. 

    Even though studs such as Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill are going to get the accolades and the spotlight, the Nittany Lions have a plethora of underrated and sometimes overlooked guys ready to make an impact. 

    Let's take a look at five defensive players to watch out for in 2012. 

Adrian Amos, Cornerback

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    While he only made one start last season, Adrian Amos is a versatile player that has enough playing experience to be relied on and yet enough potential to get excited over. 

    Amos appeared in all 13 games in 2011, logging over 300 downs played, 13 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups. 

    His lone start was a 70-play performance against Iowa in which he and the Lions held the Hawkeyes to three points and 253 yards. 

    Amos, who played mostly safety last season, will most likely be starting at right cornerback now that Derrick Thomas has left for Marshall

    The true sophomore will bring premier athleticism to the position and the ability to make huge plays for the Lions' secondary in 2012. 

    Also, he will be a likely candidate to replace Justin Brown as the primary punt returner. 

Jake Fagnano, Safety

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    After impressing many throughout spring and summer practices, senior safety Jake Fagnano suprisingly earned the starting strong safety position over Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. 

    While he's made an impact throughout the past two years on special teams, Fagnano hasn't had much of an opportunity to establish himself in the secondary. 

    Standing at 6'0'', the fifth-year senior has gained a reputation around team camp as a hard-hitter and intuitive player. 

    However, Fagnano has been dealing with a hamstring injury since the beginning of camp, and it's unlikely that he will be ready for next week's opener against Ohio. 

    Despite this, if the safety can get healthy and not give Bill O'Brien more secondary depth issues to worry about, Fagnano should garner increased playing time after years of hard work and improvement. 

Glenn Carson, Middle Linebacker

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    For much of this summer and for as long as anyone with ties to college football, the linebackers have been the emphasis of the Penn State defense.

    Thus far, Gerald Hodges has his name on almost every defensive award watch-list and Michael Mauti has become a true voice of the team throughout the sanctions and scandal.

    So, where does that leave starting middle linebacker Glenn Carson?

    Whether people realize it, Carson was one of the most efficient and sure tacklers on the team in 2011, coming in at fourth total in tackles (74) and forced two fumbles.

    Now that Khairi Fortt has transferred out to Cal, the job is Carson's to lose and it doesn't look like that will happen this year.

    The 6'3'' junior not only has the skills to perform at a high level, but he also possesses the smart mind necessary to be a successful member of "Linebacker U."

    Carson boasted a 3.29 cumulative GPA coming into the summer and was rewarded for his efforts with a Academic All-Big Ten nod at the end of the 2011 season.

    Bottom line, Carson is a bright, instinctive linebacker who will step up for the Lions this fall, even if all the press gravitates toward Hodges and Mauti.   

C.J. Olaniyan, Defensive End

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    With seniors Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley already owning the starting roles at defensive ends, C.J. Olaniyan won't be expected to garner over 500 snaps in 2012. 

    However, Olaniyan did turn in a successful Blue-White game performance with three sacks and his athleticism on the end will be an asset to the Lions this upcoming year.

    Not only will Olaniyan get looks in the defensive end rotation, but also he'll have another year to learn under the guidance of defensive line coach and magician of a recruiter Larry Johnson. 

    Considering Johnson's track record of grooming athletic defensive players at a speedy rate (i.e. Aaron Maybin), Olaniyan could be breathing down the seniors' necks for playing time by time the season is complete.

    Another thing to keep in mind is Massaro's laundry list of injuries in the past.

    The fifth-year senior tore his left ACL in the 2009 Blue-White game and his right ACL in last year's spring practices, so unfortunately it's not out of the question to expect another injury.

    If this is the case, expect Olaniyan to challenge fellow defensive end Deion Barnes for the starting role on the right side.  

DaQuan Jones, Defensive Tackle

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    Even though he appeared in every game in 2011, DaQuan Jones spent more time last year taking notes from All-American defensive tackle Devon Still than he was actually playing. 

    But in the same regard, that could be what Jones needed as he now takes over the role of No. 2 defensive tackle next to senior Jordan Hill. 

    Standing at 6'3'', 324 lbs., the junior will be looking to take over the kind of role that Hill thrived in last year: take advantage of your fellow tackle being double-teamed and wreak havoc in the backfield. 

    Despite his size, Jones is an athletic guy and can use his deceptive quickness to beat opposing offensive linemen off the ball. 

    With the Lions relying on the defense to carry them this year, it will be imperative that Jones produces on a high and consistent level in Ted Roof's system.