Penn State usually doesn't lose players early to the NFL Draft, which made it all the more shocking when All-Big Ten defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans decided to go pro following the Rose Bowl.
The loss of those two players, particularly Maybin, a mere sophomore, sent chills up Penn State fans' spines. They were supposed to be in Blue and White for at least one more season, if not more for Maybin. And to add insult to injury, the always steady senior Josh Gaines graduated. Now, Penn State has been forced to scramble to build depth at the position.
On the inside, it's a completely different story. Penn State returns probably the best three defensive tackles in the Big Ten: Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Abe Koroma. They have all worked extremely well together and consistently played both run and pass. If defensive end is the dark spot, then tackle is definitely the bright spot for 2009.
• No. 81, Jack Crawford. Sophomore. Starter.
What we already know: A product of England (yes, England) Crawford has gotten nothing but glowing reviews from the coaching staff the last two years. He has great size (6'5" 262) and is said to be very quick off the ball. Crawford appeared in all 13 games last season, logging four tackles and two pass breakups. His teammates have said he's actually just as fast as Maybin was, but with a little more height.
What to expect: It's always tough to root for one side of the Blue White Game. I want the offensive line to do well, but I might be happier if Crawford emerges with a dominating performance. The top aspect of his game I'll look for this weekend is his speed. If he is truly as fast as Maybin, I want to see it.
• No. 44, Kevion Latham. Redshirt Sophomore. Likely Starter.
What we already know: Latham played in eight games last year, finishing with three assisted tackles. He's in the same mold as Maurice Evans, at 6'2" about 250 lbs. Latham supposedly has great speed and agility, which allows him to slip by the offensive linemen. His three years in the program gives him much more experience than it seems.
What to expect: If Latham is in fact like Mo Evans, then I want to see it this weekend. Since he's competing against Eric Lattimore for the end spot opposite Crawford, Latham has to end this spring with a bang. This could be the most interesting race to watch this weekend, as Latham and Lattimore (more on him in a sec) have two very different styles and builds.
• No. 56, Eric Lattimore. Redshirt Sophomore. Possible Starter.
What we already know: Lattimore has fantastic size (6'6" 265) and good speed to go along with it. He recorded seven tackles, one TFL, one sack and a QB hurry in only nine games last year. While some defensive ends like to be smaller than the tackles they go against, Lattimore seems to revel in the fact that he's the same size.
What to expect: Lattimore is still trying to lock up the other defensive end spot, competing against Kevion Latham. While the Blue White Game is not a major factor in determining who gets to play in the fall, it is something the coaches look at. I want to see Lattimore play up to his size this Saturday.
• Others to note: No. 39, Tom Golarz, Senior; No. 51, Jonathan Stewart, Redshirt Sophomore; No. 59, Pete Massaro, Redshirt Freshman.
What we already know: Golarz and Stewart combined for three tackles last year; Golarz in nine games, Stewart in two. Massaro has been described as a solid player, who should push for more playing time this year.
What to expect: These are the guys who really need to play well on Saturday. While none of them have done anything remarkable so far in their careers, now is the time to step up. More likely than not, they will spend most of the game going against the first team offensive line. It should give everyone a pretty good idea as to how deep the defensive ends are.
• No. 91, Jared Odrick. Senior. Starter.
What we already know: Odrick emerged as one of the dominant tackles in college football last season. He started 11 of 13 games, and finished with 41 tackles, nine for loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups, and a huge safety against Michigan. His size (6'5" 305) and ability explode off the ball gives Penn State a rock for the rest of the line to build around.
What to expect: Odrick is probably the least of anyone's worries going into the break. But if I were to look for something on Saturday, I'd say keep an eye on how well he does against Penn State's young offensive line. He's said that it's now more frustrating for him, because the line has gotten better. We'll see.
• No. 95, Abe Koroma. Redshirt Junior. Likely Starter.
What we already know: Koroma played in 10 games last year, starting five. He totaled 26 tackles, two for loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Koroma was suspended for three games after being charged with marijuana possession, along with Mo Evans, prior to the Oregon State game. He worked his way back into the starting spot by season's end. He is a good weight (305) and height (6'3").
What to expect: Even though Koroma was in Joe Paterno's dog house most of the season, his abilities allowed him to work his way back. I want to see him look like an upperclassman leader on Saturday, and set the example for the young guys. The defensive tackles are some of the most experienced players on this team, and Koroma has to live up to that role.
• No. 85, Ollie Ogbu. Redshirt Junior. Possible Starter.
What we already know: Ogbu was played in the regular starting rotation of tackles last season and the year prior. He started nine games in 2008, and could be considered the third starting tackle. Ogbu is a bit smaller (6'1" 289) than most tackles, but he plays much bigger than his size. He registered 17 tackles, 2.5 for loss, two sacks and a QB hurry.
What to expect: Ogbu reminds me of Jay Alford, another Lion (now sporting a Super Bowl ring) who played larger than his size. That's why I'm expecting nothing less on Saturday. It could be a very tight race between Ogbu and Koroma for the most playing time, even though they will both rotate regularly. But someone's got to start, and with a good finish to this spring, Ogbu could earn that spot.
• No. 71, Devon Still. Redshirt Sophomore. Backup.
What we already know: Still has been hampered by injuries, causing him to miss all but three games last year. He did return for the final two, but hasn't yet logged a stat. Odrick himself has said Still can develop into a real force on the line, and has the natural gifts (6'5" 300) to get him there.
What to expect: Still looks to be ready to go, and ready to make up for lost time. I hope so, as I'm really excited to see him perform on the field. He should start for the second team, and going up against the first team offense, I want to see him give them some fits. It will be up to Still to lead the interior of the defense, particularly against the run, which could be significantly featured this year.
• No. 92, Chima Okoli. Redshirt Sophomore. Backup.
What we already know: Okoli played in seven games, notching just one tackle. But the coaches like what he's been doing in practice, and should push for some more playing time this year. He has great size (6'4" 300) for the position, giving him the tools to make a difference along the line.
What to expect: Okoli should contend for one of the top two reserve spots this fall, but he'll be one of the main guys this weekend for the second team.
• Others to note: No. 99, Brandon Ware, Redshirt Freshman; No. 55 Tom McEowen. Redshirt Junior.
What we already know: McEowen has been the victim of injuries and position shifts, but has always remained a team kind of guy about it. He played in seven games last year, logging five tackles. Ware is gigantic (6'3" 350), and Joe Paterno has been on his case to lose the weight, which he's doing. The staff likes his progress, and should see the field this fall.
What to expect: When the third and fourth string guys get onto the field during the Blue White Game, that's when the real action begins. We don't always get to see, or heard about how well these players are doing. This will be our change. Good teams have great depth, and McEowen and Ware are the depth.
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*Note the schedule has changed!
Monday: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
Tuesday: Receivers and Tight Ends
Wednesday: Offensive line
Friday: Defensive Backs, Special Teams.
Saturday night: Report from the game, photos, etc.