In need of new leadership on defense, Penn State saw some players embrace the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role in 2013 during the annual Blue White Game.
Penn State has long been nicknamed Linebacker U. This year’s starting linebacker crop should include Glenn Carson in the middle, Nyeem Wartman and Mike Hull on the outsides. Carson is bringing plenty of playing experience as a starter in to the 2013 season and is now being looked to carry on the leadership at the signature position for Penn State’s defense.
Some are already likening his game to that of Michael Mauti, who was a leader of the defense on and off the field last season before ending his year with a torn ACL injury. Carson may lack the speed of some of the elite linebackers around the nation, but his solid focus on fundamentals and his ball awareness have made him worthy of a starting job each of the past two seasons and preparing for his third.
Hull clearly has a special place on the Penn State roster. After the game Bill O’Brien had high praise for Hull’s leadership and commitment to the program. When Mauti went down last season, it was Hull who stepped in when needed. Now Hull gets a chance to become a starter and continue displaying his leadership for a young defense to follow.
But it was the third linebacker who had the biggest play of the day from the three. Wartman read a screen play nicely, perhaps knowing from experience the sorts of plays the offense runs, and he drew the first significant crowd reaction with his hit on running back Deron Thompson. Wartman sat out a redshirt season in 2012 and is ready to get on the field and have an impact on the games in 2013, and this has fans and coaches both anticipating some good things to come.
Deion Barnes was last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year and for good reason. This year the defensive line is looking to see Barnes continue to blossom in the trenches. In the spring game Barnes was credited with a sack and tackle for a loss of six yards. Though he played mostly against second-string offensive linemen, Barnes showed he should once again have an impact during his sophomore season.
While the expectations are high for Barnes, and for good reason, the big concern is who else will be joining him on the starting defensive line. More importantly, will any of those lining up with him be able to have any impact against opposing offenses. If Saturday was any indication, Brad Bars may be a player worth watching going forward.
Bars was in the face of junior college transfer quarterback Tyler Ferguson handful of times, bringing pressure but having to refrain from completing his pursuit of the quarterback. Bars appeared to be able to bring a little bit of energy to the position and he has been developing nicely under the coaching of defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
One of the biggest keys to the success of Penn State’s defense in 2013 may come from the play of the secondary. Adrian Amos is fully expected to have a solid season and become the leader of the defensive backs. His flexibility could come in handy as he is capable of playing multiple positions on the field.
Last year Penn State totaled ten interceptions, but five of those were by linebackers Mauti and Gerald Hodges. If Penn State is going to give opposing offenses some trouble, the secondary will have to pick up a few more interceptions themselves. Fortunately that has been an area being focused on this spring by the defensive backs, including Amos.