The Penn State defense was riddled with injuries in 2010 and will be looking for redemption in 2011. With a few tough opponents on the schedule the importance of solid defense is significant as Penn State prepares for Alabama, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska this fall.
The defense already experienced a casualty when defensive end Pete Massaro tore his ACL, sidelining him for the entire year. Massaro's loss leaves a hole to fill but the rest of the defensive line could be relatively solid if Jack Crawford solves his foot problems.
One area of strength is the secondary, which looks to be stacked with veterans from the start. And if you are going to look at Penn State's defense you have to take a solid look at the linebackers. This season Penn State could have three linebackers that will not be making highlight-reel stops, but can pile up solid tackle numbers.
We already took a peek at the offense, but now here is a look at the possible defensive starters for Penn State's season opener against Indiana State on September 3.
With Pete Massaro already done for the year and Jack Crawford more likely to start on the right side of the line, the left end position will look to break in a new starter in 2011.
1.Eric Lattimore (pictured)
Look for the senior to emerge as the starter in the absence of Massaro, although he has had a slight injury bug as well. Lattimore is one of two seniors at the defensive end position. Also do not be surprised if linemen work on a rotation between two or three players this season to keep some fresh legs on the field at all times.
2. DaQuan Jones
3. C.J. Olaniyan
Ollie Ogbu started all but one game at left tackle last season, so this will be one position that is up for grabs when the 2011 camp opens up for Penn State.
1. Jordan Hill
When Ogbu did not start against Indiana due to a violation of team rules, it was Jordan Hill who got the starting nod. Hill is on the rise along the defensive line and should be expected to make a push in 2011 for the vacant starting position.
2. DaQuan Jones (pictured)
One position that looks to be set heading into the season is the right tackle position. Last year's starter returns for the 2011 season.
1. Devon Still (pictured)
Senior Devon Still will be one of the leaders in the trenches in 2011. Still was second among Penn State defensive linemen in tackles, behind only Ollie Ogbu. After Still there is some youth in the middle of the line so the position could be well stocked for the next few years.
2. James Terry
Could this be the year of redemption for Jack Crawford? He was expected to be one of the better defensive players in the Big Ten last season but injuries and a lack of production held him back from being recognized as an elite defensive end.
1. Jack Crawford (pictured)
Even when healthy, Crawford has some making up to do in order to live up to some of the preseason hype surrounding him last season. Crawford has been bothered by a nagging foot injury and was limited in spring practice. If healthy Crawford should lock down the starting job on the right side of the line, where he started in 2010.
2. Sean Stanley
3. Kyle Baublitz
Linebacker U looks to have some talented linebackers lining up on the field this fall, but it will be important to remain healthy if they are going to help out the defense.
1. Nate Stupar (pictured)
Stupar started half of the regular season games for Penn State and was used mostly on the outside, alongside the departed Chris Colasanti. With Michael Mauti moving to the middle of the unit, Stupar's playing time on the outside should become more permanent in 2011.
2. Khairi Fortt
When it comes to Penn State's defense the focus is usually on the linebacker in the middle of the field. Guys like LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee all thrived in the middle. The middle linebacker position has become an iconic one for Penn State.
1. Michael Mauti
Michael Mauti moves from outside to inside linebacker this season and he should be just the guy to solidify what could be a very dependable crop of linebackers in 2011. Mauti was Penn State's fifth leading tackler a year ago (67 tackles) and that number should escalate in 2011 with a full-time starting job available.
2. Mike Hull (pictured)
Penn State is likely to stick to veteran players to round out the starting linebacker jobs in 2011. With Stupar and Mauti already taking two of the three spots available, another junior should expect to be named a starter on the outside, opposite of Stupar.
1. Gerald Hodges (pictured)
Junior Gerald Hodges had 31 tackles last season as a back-up linebacker and now he will be given an opportunity to play more during the season as a starter. He brings a little more edge to the position than Stupar and Mauti. He will need to make sure he can track down ball carriers, but his skill set is good enough to carry his own weight.
2. Michael Yancich
The secondary is receiving some decent praise heading in to the start of the season. Phil Steele and ESPN's Big Ten bloggers labeled Penn State's secondary as the top unit in the Big Ten. With some veteran leadership filling the starting jobs, it may be a fair assessment.
1. Chaz Powell (pictured)
Whether it is Chaz Powell or Stephfon Morris, Penn State is in good shape on the right side of the defense. Powell and Morris split playing time at the position in 2010 but Powell started the final five games at the spot, so we'll give him the leg up entering 2011.
2. Stephfon Morris
On the other side of the field will be one of the conference's top cornerbacks in D'Anton Lynn.
1. D'Anton Lynn
Penn State's lead returning tackler from 2010 started each game last year at the right cornerback position. Do not expect anything to change in 2011. Lynn had 75 tackles in 2010, along with three interceptions and four pass break-ups. Lynn will be tasked with covering some of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten, including Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Ohio State's DeVier Posey, and also Alabama's Juron Carter in non-conference play.
2. Mike Wallace
3. Derrick Thomas
The free safety position might be a little more of an adventure for Penn State when compared to the cornerback and hero positions, but it will not be without any starting experience.
1. Nick Sukay
As long as he is healthy, senior Nick Sukay will look to show why he started the first half of the season at the free safety position in 2010. Sukay recorded 29 tackles and three interceptions in just six games last season, making his return to the field one of the bigger stories for the defense in 2011. If Sukay can stay on the field, then Penn State's secondary will remain one of the best in the conference.
2. Malcolm Willis (pictured)
3. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong
Completing the defensive secondary for Penn State is the hero position, which has become a trade mark of Penn State's defense. Looking to hold down the position will be Drew Astorino once again.
1. Drew Astorino (pictured)
Drew Astorino started all but one game at the position in 2010, so he enters 2011 as a virtual lock to start. Astorino totaled 70 tackles and one interception last season. With Astorino playing in the same backfield as Powell, Sukay, and Lynn, Penn State has one of the most veteran secondaries in the Big Ten, and in the country.
2. Ryan Keiser
Just to recap, here is the projected defensive starting lineup for the 2011 season-opener between Penn State and Indiana State:
Left End: Eric Lattimore
Left Tackle: Jordan Hill
Right Tackle: Devon Still
Right End: Jack Crawford
Outside Linebacker: Nate Stupar
Inside Linebacker: Michael Mauti
Outside Linebacker: Gerald Hodges
Left Cornerback: D'Anton Lynn
Free Safety: Nick Sukay
Hero: Drew Astorino
Right Cornerback: Chaz Powell