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Penn State Football: How Nittany Lions Can Replace Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges

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Penn State Football: How Nittany Lions Can Replace Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges
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A lot has been made about Penn State losing Michael Mauti to an unfortunate knee injury that cost him his last game in Blue and White, and deservedly so.

Next season he'll be gone, as will fellow senior 'backer Gerald Hodges, leaving a sizable hole in the linebacker unit next season.

Here's the stat lines from both players:

- Hodges: 12 games, 109 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble

- Mauti: 11 games, 96 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles

Between the two of them, they accounted for 55.9 percent of the unit's total tackles and all but one of the group's interceptions and fumble recoveries. That's a lot of production to have to make up for.

The Nittany Lions lose two big things from these guys—productivity and leadership. Hodges, while not getting as much media attention as his partner in crime, was the better player throughout the season. But Mauti was the leader, the vocal force that gave Linebacker U its bite.

So with these two senior leaders gone, who's left to pick up the pieces next season?

Well, prepare to see a much younger group of linebackers next season. Not knowing who the team will recruit to its staple position, here's what we know about the 2013 linebackers.

There are 10 returning 'backers (the team will be losing two other seniors besides Mauti and Hodges), assuming they all stay in Happy Valley. Of those 10, one will be a senior and one will be a junior. That leaves eight sophomores/redshirt freshmen who have had little or no playing time this season.

Who will be the Nittany Lions' third starting LB next season?

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Now, there's some good news with that. That returning senior is Glenn Carson, and the returning junior is Mike Hull.

Carson was rock solid all year, tallying 85 tackles (three for a loss) and one sack in all 12 games. His production picked up immensely in the final three games, as he wrapped up the ball-carrier 34 times, his best three-game stretch of the season. Plug him in next season and don't worry.

Hull was the ultimate utility man for the group. Whenever someone needed a break, he was there. Whatever the coaches needed him to do, he would do. He played in all 12 games, backing up the aforementioned trio, and still picked up 58 tackles, five of which were in the backfield. But the best part was the four sacks, one pick and two forced fumbles he also had.

All while playing part time.

If he gets a full slate of snaps next season, he could easily top 100 tackles and push toward 10 sacks. I'd say that's a pretty solid job replacing two stars.

But the big question is, who becomes linebacker No. 3?

Freshman Ben Kline played in all 12 games, gathering 18 tackles in the process. Freshman Nyeem Wartman played in two games and picked up one tackle. Outside of that, however, the other six linebackers didn't get any game time this season, according to the Big Ten Conference's stats page.

Based on that alone, Kline seems like the front-runner simply because he's been on the field more. But the coaches will obviously be smart enough not to lock up that third spot just like that. Expect Wartman, Gary Wooten, T.J. Rhattigan, Drew Boyce, Charles Idemudia, Adam Cole and Brennan Franklin to have something to say about that.

The 2013 recruiting class should not be expected to bring in a star-studded linebacker group, as the school will be losing a bunch of scholarships, meaning a loss in incoming talent. So the likely third linebacker will probably come from someone currently on the roster.

Who will likely be the third linebacker, assuming Carson and Hull lock up the first two spots?

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