Penn State's 2012 season was one built on a firm foundation of senior defensive leadership. With players like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Stephon Morris and Jordan Hill all moving on from the program, there is now an opportunity for new faces to become the face of the defense.
In 2013, some of the young talent that broke out in 2012 will take on a more vital role in the defense. Deion Barnes has set the bar high after a remarkable debut season worthy of Big Ten honors. Adrian Amos showed a glimpse of good things to come in the secondary, and Glenn Carson will continue to anchor the defense in the middle of the field. These players and more will look to continue a solid defensive legacy at Penn State.
Here is a look at seven of the most important players on Penn State's defense in 2013.
Deion Barnes burst onto the scene last season for Penn State. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Barnes emerged as one of Penn State's top defensive players. Barnes was recognized for his strong debut season with Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades after leading Penn State with 10.0 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks.
This spring and heading in to the 2013 season, Barnes will be focusing on improving his rush defense to help Penn State find a way to cut off rushers on the outside.
“Sometimes teams would run at me and send tight ends and tackles at me,” Barnes said in a recent conference call with the media this spring. “I don’t want that to be a weakness where people will say, ‘let’s run at [uniform number] 18 because he’s a pass-rusher.’ I think I’m doing a better job right now.”
DaQuan Jones will be counted on to provide a sense of senior leadership on the defensive line. Jones also fills a significant hole on the line with the loss of NFL-bound Jordan Hill. Fortunately for Penn State, Jones brings the kind of size that can generally be counted on in the middle of the defensive line and he is already being recognized as the leader of the unit.
“I'm the only senior left,” Jones said this spring. “I've been here three years now. It's a lot on my plate, but I think I'm ready for it because I've had great mentors. I had Devon Still (2010-11) and then I had Jordan Hill last year. You just learn from them going into this year.”
Jones started in all but one game last season, when James Terry got the starting nod in the regular season finale against Wisconsin for Senior Day. This season, Jones will be in the middle of a defensive line with young talent rising and players continuing to make a transition. His veteran presence will be more of a factor than many stats could suggest. But Jones does need to be a bit more physical on the line and try to be more of a disruption behind the line of scrimmage for opposing offenses.
“I just have to be more physical at the point of attack and exert myself at the line of scrimmage,” Jones said this spring. “What we always say is to put in the framework of the defense and then I’ll do my job of making plays.”
Adrian Amos should continue to fill a starting role in Penn State's secondary, and with two years of playing time now already behind him, he could be developing into one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten with another solid year.
Previously on Bleacher Report, Barry Leonard suggested Amos will have to come up with more interceptions before being mentioned as a top defensive back in the conference. Amos was tied for the most on the team last season with two interceptions. He had one against Ohio State and another against Indiana, which was returned 54 yards. The top defensive backs in the Big Ten recorded three or four interceptions last season, so Amos is not that far off in this category.
Amos has tackled fairly well, and he tends to cover more than adequately for Penn State. At 6'0', he is not terribly undersized against some of the top wide receivers in the conference.
The biggest asset Amos brings to the defense is his versatility. Amos can play cornerback and safety, allowing him to be moved around the field and used in different defensive packages depending on the scheme needed. With the team having some depth concerns in the defensive backfield, this may be the most important player in the unit by far.
Glenn Carson has worked hard since arriving to Penn State as a freshman in January 2010. His hard work and commitment has paid off.
After making a switch from linebacker to fullback and back to linebacker in 2010, he has been a fixture in Penn State's defense since 2011. Carson has been starting in the middle of Penn State's defense for two seasons and will now take on more of a leadership role as a senior in 2013.
Carson was third on the team in total tackles in 2012, trailing only his linebacker teammates Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Carson has 100-tackle potential and should continue to play well in tracking down ball-carriers. He may lack the speed that elite linebackers bring to the field, but his tackling skills make him one of the better linebackers in the conference.
This spring head coach Bill O'Brien expressed a concern about the depth at Penn State's signature position. Carson will be counted on to keep things steady, and if he suffers an injury it may be tough to fill his shoes in the fall for any extended stretch of time.
Mike Hull will be a key defensive player for Penn State this season. The redshirt junior will be taking over a spot previously held by Michael Mauti, a position he has filled before for Mauti. Filling in for a key spot on the field is already bringing a significant amount of attention to Hull, and he seems to realize the importance of the task at hand in 2013.
"Last year kind of set the stage for what I expect to do in the future," Hull said in a recent conference call with the media. "It was great getting out there last year. I'm just ready for my role to increase, and I'm looking forward to being part of a great defense."
When the NCAA offered a free transfer to any current Penn State players last summer Hull admitted to looking at his options. He even took a visit to Pittsburgh's campus before deciding to stay with Penn State. Now his work ethic on special teams duties and strength training will lead to him taking on an important role on Penn State's defense.
Nyeem Wartman sat out last season with a redshirt, which was confirmed by Bill O'Brien this spring. Now that spring practices are ongoing, Wartman is already emerging as a likely candidate to fill the other starting vacancy in Penn State's 4-3 defense at outside linebacker. In all likelihood, Wartman will fill the spot previously held by Gerald Hodges.
Wartman has fans and coaches excited about the possibilities. O'Brien mentioned Wartman's name a few times this spring when talking to the media, suggesting that he has performed well and is making a strong push to fill out the linebacker spots available alongside Carson and Hull.
“Nyeem, he’s not a concern," Carson has said this spring. "He’s a great player, he’s a great athlete and I really trust him next to me.”
Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has been largely overshadowed and buried on the roster at Penn State, but he has seen a good amount of playing time since joining the program. After redshirting his first season (2009), Obeng-Agyapong has played in every game the past three seasons between reserve and starting roles. Last season Obeng-Agyapong took over a starting spot and showed he is capable of delivering some solid hits on opposing receivers.
Obeng-Agyapong will have to tighten up his game a little bit so he can be more of a consistent contributor on defense, but he has worked hard to improve his game since he joined the program. He will be one of the more experienced players in the defensive backfield in 2013, along with Adrian Amos. Last season he broke up four passes and forced a fumble to go with his 41 total tackles.
Will Obeng-Agyapong end his tenure at Penn State on a high note?
Penn State's spring football game will be played April 20 in Beaver Stadium. The 2013 season kicks off in MetLife Stadium against Syracuse on August 31.