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Penn State Football: Why DEs Are Poised to Be Heart of Defense in 2014

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) gets past Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan (86) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Nebraska  won 23-20. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar
Tim TolleyContributor IApril 2, 2014

The Penn State coaches are doing their best this spring to fit guys into different spots on the defensive side of the ball, looking for the best combinations and skill sets for the jobs. 

Newcomers Antoine White and Tarow Barney are in the mix at tackle, whereas Anthony Zettel hopes to solidify himself as a starter.

The linebacker combinations are constantly in motion while Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos are the lone sure things in the secondaryalthough where Amos will play may not be such a sure thing.

The lone area on the defense where depth is an asset and the starters are both written in pen is defensive end, where bookends C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes return for what should be another productive season.

As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Barnes' production demanded playing time and the rangy Philadelphia native was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year while earning an All-Conference Honorable Mention.

His five sacks and 10 tackles for loss were both tops on the squad.

Back for his third year as a starter, Barnes has gained some weight in his upper body and has All-Big Ten ability.

Olaniyan became a full-time starter for the first time last season and had a stellar year, outperforming his counterpart in Barnes.

As an every-down player, Olaniyan recorded 11 tackles for loss and led the team with five sacks, including two-and-a-half against Michigan.

His 33-yard interception return against Wisconsin proved vital in helping Penn State hold on to a winning record in 2013.

Barnes and Olaniyan are a dynamic pair of ends that will prove to be among the top in the conference.

And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

After having an impact in the rotation as an end last season, Zettel was able to bulk up and move to tacklepartly because of the lack of depth inside, but also because of the strength at end.

Penn State's Returning Defensive Ends
2013TacklesTFLsSacks
Deion Barnes2842
C.J. Olaniyan50115
Carl Nassib1221
Evan Schwann4.5-
CFBStats.com

Former walk-on Carl Nassib and redshirt freshman Evan Schwan each recorded tackles for loss last season, but they'll have to fight to see the field in 2014.

High school All-American Garrett Sickels is fresh off his redshirt campaign and has been turning heads in spring camp. After gaining the weight required to play the position, he has trimmed down and is going to be in the rotation.

Also a member of the 2013 recruiting class, redshirt freshman Curtis Cothran has put on some weight and drastically improved his explosiveness.

Similarly to Barnes, Cothran is longer than he is big, so it will be interesting to see if he can hold his ground at the point of attack.

With at least five more-than-capable defensive ends at his disposal, new defensive line coach Sean Spencer should always have fresh bodies on the edges.

With most of the defense undetermined at this point, the one thing that's certain is Penn State will be as good at defensive end as it's been in some time.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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