Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti has just been placed on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award, a distinction that places him among the best defensive players in the country.
With that in mind, it is important to note that while we continue to talk about the quarterback situation in Happy Valley, it is always easy to overlook a defense that is a perennial powerhouse nationally.
The tradition of developing great linebackers has deemed Penn State as "Linebacker U." Mauti, a junior this season, is primed to carry on that tradition by dominating the defensive side of the ball in 2011.
Mauti has the kind of skill set that will allow him to disrupt passing lanes while he is dropping back in zone coverage. When applying pressure, he has a knack to get into the opponent's offensive backfield and make plays.
People forget that Mauti was one of the top prep stars coming out of college. He played for Mandeville High School in Louisiana where he was under the tutelage of the famed Guy LeCompte. Mauti starred in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl which features the nation's top high school players annually. Playing for LeCompte is no easy task as the revered coach of Mandeville High School continues to run a pipeline of talent to the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12.
Last year, inexperience and various other woes kind of took the spotlight off of the expectations from some of Penn State's more important defensive players. Mauti did not have a standout year by any means. He was able to grab two sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss, but at Ohio State and versus Michigan State—the two biggest in-conference games of the season—Mauti disappeared, collecting zero solo tackles in both outings.
To be fair, Mauti did have some health issues a year ago. He missed both the Illinois and Indiana matchups. At Alabama, he did round up six total tackles as well.
Fully recovered from the ACL injury he suffered a couple of years ago, Mauti will surely inflict damage in 2011. He now has the opportunity to fill an every-down role as a starting linebacker on the inside.
Staying healthy is critical for Mauti. His knee, ankle and shoulder ailments have to be put behind him. The right knee brace that he wore throughout 2010 is no longer being worn by Mauti this offseason. Instead, he is playing a fiery brand of football in preparation for the upcoming season.