With the departure of the 2012 senior class, Penn State football not only lost a crop of leaders, but also a handful of talented players on both sides of the ball.
On offense the team loses playmakers like Matthew McGloin, and a staunch defense that ranked 16th in points allowed (19.1 per game) loses senior leadership on the front four and secondary.
However, what may hit the hardest is the graduation of linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.
In terms of Mauti, what he did for the program as a vocal leader won't be forgotten easily, but the services he provided on the gridiron shouldn't be overlooked.
Mauti totaled 95 tackles in 2012 even though he missed almost two games on the year. Though he's probably the most memorable member of the 2012 senior class, Hodges can not and should not be passed over.
Extremely athletic and able to make virtually every play in open space, Hodges brought a ball-hawking, hard-hitting presence to the linebacking corps in his time at Penn State and that should translate well to the NFL.
With that being said, how will the Nittany Lions try to replace that in less than a year, especially with a new defensive coordinator?
Thankfully for Penn State, the quiet and much-less talked about starting backer from last year—Glenn Carson–will be back for his senior campaign and should provide more of an example-driven leadership role in 2013.
Regardless, the Lions still must find two capable replacements at the outside linebacker positions, so who will they be?
One guy that should have a starting job locked up before fall camp is Mike Hull.
Hull—a family legacy at Penn State—was essentially the Lions' fourth starter and contributed on defense and special teams last year (see: Ohio State punt block).
Hull is a cerebral player, sure tackler, plugs running lanes and seems to be in the right position at the right time—all of which are the marks of a successful member of the "Linebacker U" fraternity.
If Hull is to fill one of the two opening spots, who will emerge in camp and claim the third role? Who is going to step up, thrust themselves into the spotlight and make the coaches turn heads?
With a lack of experienced backups from last year to pick from, don't be surprised if a starter is a true freshman.
In fact, a good guess for the third starting linebacker would be incoming freshman Zayd Issah.
Issah not only has an awesome name, but also comparable on-the-field skills.
A Harrisburg product, the versatile linebacker could probably play safety for Penn State, but linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden probably can't wait to tutor the youngster.
The 4-star recruit (via Scout.com) chose Penn State over Oregon, succeeded at running back in high school and now has the chance to make his impact felt at the next level.
Of course, rankings and stars don't mean much once players reach the collegiate level, so it will be interesting to see how Issah and the rest of the recruits develop and react in their first camp and season.
However, based on film and pure physical abilities, Issah has the potential to take over a starting role in his freshman campaign.
Other names to watch in the hunt for that starting job is Ben Kline and another incoming freshman, Brandon Bell.
But, Issah probably has the best chance to try and replace the athletic linebacker role left by Hodges.
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