Linebackers and Penn State.
LaVar Arrington, Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Shane Conlan, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor; the list goes on.
If there is any greater relationship between a school and a position, you'd be hard pressed to prove it. Going into 2009, Penn State could boast one of the top linebacker corps in the nation...again.
The depth chart is overflowing with talent, and the coaches are making every attempt to get that talent on the field. But with names like Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman in the starting lineup, it will be a tough task to lock up the remaining linebacker slot.
An interesting race is on in Happy Valley, and it's not the one for another Big Ten title.
• No. 18, Navorro Bowman—Redshirt Sophomore: Starter
What we already know: Bowman was part of super-recruiter Larry Johnson, Sr.'s 2006 Maryland campaign, which effectively sucked up all the best talent from that state.
Though it's paid off in more ways than just Bowman, he has become the star of the class particularly since Aaron Maybin left for the draft. Bowman led the team in tackles last year, with 106, including a fantastic 16.5 for loss (five alone against USC), four sacks, an interception, and a bunch of other big plays.
All that, considering he only earned his first start four games into the season, bodes well for the rising junior. He also recently switched numbers to No. 11, the same Arrington donned from 1998-1999.
What to expect: There isn't a whole lot you can want from Bowman this weekend, except to not get hurt. But if there is one thing, it's for him to be a vocal leader for the rest of the defense. With Sean Lee out, it will be up to Bowman to take the reigns on Saturday.
• No. 42, Michael Mauti—Sophomore: Likely Starter
What we already know: Mauti was pulled from the sidelines last year after playing out of his mind during practice. He's been one of the coaches' favorite young stars, and should start this year in place of departed Tyrell Sales.
Mauti is lightening quick with great toughness. He finished with an astounding (for a reserve) 26 tackles in 2008, one for loss and a forced fumble playing in all 13 games. He has ideal size for the position, at 6'3" and 215 lbs.
What to expect: As a likely starter on the first team, it's prime time for Mauti and I want to see him play like it. I have no doubt that he will live up to those kinds of expectations. Although he played quite a bit last year, we weren't able to fully grasp his talent.
This Saturday could be a breakout day for him. With his speed, he could out-perform Bowman. Mauti's progress is an absolutely necessary factor if this year's linebacker group plays as well as expected.
• No. 15, Bani Gbadyu—Redshirt Junior: Backup
What we already know: Gbadyu (pronounced BAH-ju) started the first three games last year before Bowman took over his outside spot opposite Tyrell Sales.
Still, Gbadyu recorded 25 tackles, three for loss and an interception. He played very well in 2007, as one of the many 'backers filling into the second outside spot throughout the year. Gbadyu has good speed and can hit well enough, but at times has lacked a mean streak.
What to expect: Everyone knows how quickly things change for a position when there's an injury (see: Lee, Sean). Luckily, Gbadyu has the experience to step right in and perform capably. This Saturday, he will most likely start for the second team.
As one of the veterans on this team, I want him to play like one. Like the defensive line, the backup linebackers get plenty of playing time during the season, so it's crucial for reserves like Gbadyu to be ready.
I expect to see a little more attitude from him, too, this weekend.
STAND-UP DEFENSIVE END
• No. 34, Nate Stupar—Redshirt Sophomore: Backup/Stand-up Defensive End
What we already know: Stupar earned the fans' support last year for playing lights-out on special teams. He saw the field in all 13 games, finishing with 21 tackles, one for loss, and blocked two punts.
Stupar is a local product from State College, and plays much bigger than his size (6'1", 226 lbs.) would suggest. He could split time with Jerome Hayes at the fourth linebacker/stand-up defensive end spot this season.
What to expect: I'm very curious to see how Stupar's role develops this offseason, and Saturday will be a great chance for that. If the coaches use him exclusively at the stand-up end spot, I'd be surprised. He should see time on both teams, but with Hayes out, will be the first in line for the stand-up end.
• Others to note: No. 33, Mike Yancich: Redshirt Freshman; No. 88 John Ditto: Redshirt Sophomore.
What we already know: Yancich was part of the great linebacker haul in the 2007 recruiting class, and now should see plenty of time on the field. Ditto is also listed on this preview as a reserve tight end, but should see time at linebacker this year as well if not making a full move to the position by the summer. Yancich has good speed and great size (6'2", 225 lbs.) for the position.
What to expect: Yancich is an interesting prospect in that he's been the least covered linebacker from the 2007 class. But from all accounts, he's up to the challenge for a top reserve spot this fall. If he starts for the second team this weekend, it could be a big coming-out party for the redshirt frosh.
• No. 43, Josh Hull—Redshirt Senior: Likely Starter (BWG only), Backup
What we already know: Hull was the only linebacker to start all 13 games for the Nittany Lions last season.
He finished second on the team with 75 tackles, 5.5 for loss, a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Hull has a good build for the position (6'3", 240 lbs.) and is a walk-on. He will most likely backup Sean Lee in 2008, but could see significant playing time as an experienced veteran.
What to expect: If Hull wants to maximize his playing time this season, he'll have to use this game as a spring board to the fall. The coaches hate moving him down a notch, especially after he played so well last year, being forced into action two weeks before the opener.
He should start for the first team this weekend and split time with the second team. On either side, Hull has to be all-business, for at least the first half. It shouldn't be tough for him to do that.
• No. 48, Chris Colasanti—Junior: Will likely redshirt
What we already know: Colasanti was the prize out of Michigan that his home-state schools couldn't lock up. He's played sparingly his first two seasons at Penn State, but did see the field in all 13 games last year. Colasanti finished with 16 tackles in 2008, and, unless there is a major injury or shake-up, he will use this year as a redshirt season to save his eligibility.
What to expect: This will be just like another practice for Colasanti, but he knows what it means in the long run. He could be in line to take over for Sean Lee after this season, which leads right into how well Colasanti performs this summer and on the foreign team during the fall. I want to see him play this weekend like he's going to start this fall.
• No. 31, Mike Zordich—Redshirt Freshman: Backup.
What we already know: Zordich is another one of the big three linebackers from the 2007 class. He is a decent size (6'1", 230 lbs.) but has much better instincts.
It was a bit odd to hear he was allowed to wear No. 31, as usually a player is asked to wear it instead of the other way around. It is mostly given to players who have "earned" it, so Zordich could be the next great linebacker.
What to expect: Zordich might get the nod over Colasanti as starter on the inside for the Blue—White Game. If for no other reason, Zordich will be the third in line for the position this fall. If that's the case, he can use this week to step up and show the rest of the team what he can do in a close-to-the-real-thing game situation.
This will be our first time to see him in action, and I'm excited for it.
Injured: No. 5, Jerome Hayes—Redshirt Senior; No. 45, Sean Lee—Redshirt Senior.
What will happen with them: Hayes has been ravaged by unfortunate injuries almost every season he's been with Penn State. He suffered another knee injury (as he did against Wisconsin in 2007, and a foot injury in 2006) against Oregon State and was done for the season.
Each season at Penn State, Hayes performed extremely well when not injured, which makes his absence that much more tough on the team. He has recovered quickly, and should be like new for the season.
Lee is an All-American candidate, having led the team in tackles in 2007. He tore his ACL last August, and will dress for the Blue—White Game, but not play.
• • •
*Note the schedule has changed!
The Defensive Backs, Special Teams
Monday: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
Tuesday: Receivers and Tight Ends
Wednesday: Offensive line,
Thursday: Defensive Line (pt. 1), Linebackers (pt. 2)
Saturday night: Report from the game, photos, etc.