Since 2010, Penn State has earned a bit of a reputation by sending several defensive tackles to the NFL. In fact, if DaQuan Jones is drafted in the first three rounds of next week's NFL draft, he'll be the fourth Nittany Lion tackle to do so in the last five years.
Anthony Zettel might be next in line.
After spending his first two seasons in the rotation at defensive end, Zettel has added significant weight and is projected to be a starter at tackle in 2014. After playing at 258 pounds in 2013, Zettel weighed in at 274 during spring camp, but he isn't done yet, saying he "wants to put on about seven or eight more pounds of muscle before the season."
|Jared Odrick||24.5||Yes||1st Round (Dolphins)|
|Devon Still||32.5||Yes||2nd Round (Bengals)|
|Jordan Hill||19.5||Yes||3rd Round (Seahawks)|
|DaQuan Jones||15.5||No||Projected mid-round pick|
As a defensive end, Zettel was what you would call a high-motor player, being constantly disruptive behind the line of scrimmage.
In limited action as a true freshman, Zettel recorded 10 tackles, four of which were sacks.
He became a fan favorite last season by recording six tackles for loss, four sacks and a key interception against Michigan while backing up Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.
The upfield aggression he plays with will be welcomed at defensive tackle, and having him on the field at the same time as Barnes and Olaniyan will create havoc on passing downs. The three of them have recorded 22 sacks over the last two seasons while rotating with each other.
The move inside came naturally for Zettel and conveniently fit what the coaches had in mind for the Michigan native. New head coach James Franklin was prepared to persuade him to make the move during the winter before learning that Zettel was already working on the switch.
“He’s excited about doing it; he wants to do it,” Franklin said, according to Josh Moyer of ESPN, adding, “I learned a long time ago, once it’s been sold, stop selling.”
Zettel saw this move coming from afar, but the depth chart may have sped up the process ever so slightly.
"When I first got to Penn State, they recruited me as a D-End, but they knew in the future that I'd be a 3-tech [tackle]—that's just the way my body is. I knew that, and gaining the extra weight just helped solidify that."
The move couldn't have come at a more ideal time.
Penn State will have several experienced players in the rotation at end this year, and high school All-American Garrett Sickels will push everyone for snaps. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions lost their top two tackles from 2013 in DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz and were in need of bodies.
The path Zettel is taking has been walked before in Happy Valley.
Like Zettel, Devon Still was recruited out of high school as a 4-star defensive end, according to Rivals. He also started his Penn State career there before adding weight to his 6'5" frame and going on to be named an All-American as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year—an award previously won by Jared Odrick.
What goes into moving from DE to DT? Anthony Zettel is eating 5 or 6 times a day (Roughly 2k more calories than before).— Tony Mancuso (@GoPSUTony) April 10, 2014
Zettel's aggressive style mirrors both Still and Odrick, who were disruptive interior linemen capable of taking over the line of scrimmage.
Built tall and lean, similar to Odrick, Zettel looks to be in great shape and didn't show any signs of slowing down in the spring game while recording two tackles for loss with a bare midriff that drew laughs among the crowd.
His versatility and explosiveness could mean the world to a defensive front that is used to operating around a dominant tackle.
If this spring was any indication, Zettel will be that dominant tackle.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.