Garrett Sickels: Penn State D-Line Creating Chaos
Upon his arrival in Happy Valley, Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer, aka “Coach Chaos,” made his philosophy clear. He wanted to “let the wild dogs loose.”
Last year, Spencer was an integral part of a vintage Nittany Lion defense that allowed 100.5 rushing yards per game (3rd in the nation) and 278.7 total yards per game (2nd in the nation).
In 2015, Spencer’s “Wild Dogs” have elevated their play and established themselves as one of the top defensive lines in all of college football.
Defensive tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson serve as the foundation of State’s front-four. Zettel, who was named First Team All-Big Ten in 2014, is one of the team’s hardest workers and attacks the offensive line with startling ferocity and power. His partner, the 323 lb. Austin Johnson, clogs up lanes and regularly takes on double teams. These two form one of the most dominant DT pairs in the nation.
New in the starting lineup this fall are the defensive ends. Senior Carl Nassib is relentless and has an insane motor. His NCAA-leading seven sacks are evidence of this. Garrett Sickels completes the defensive front, using his speed and versatile skill set to make plays in pass rushing situations.
Sickels, a redshirt sophomore from Red Bank, NJ, cited opposing offenses’ need to double-team as a huge reason for their early success.
“If you're double teaming Austin [Johnson], someone else is going to be free,” Sickels explained. “So the way those guys have been playing, I've been able to get some one-on-ones and make plays. But vice versa, if I get double teamed, they'll get free. So I think it just depends on who is getting double teamed each play.”
The proof is in the pudding for Penn State’s defensive line this season. The team is ranked number one in the FBS in total team sacks (18) and total sack yardage lost (148). Another reason for their success is their depth.
The talent and depth surrounding Sickels is a sign of how far Penn State has come since its thin years under NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions can rotate in more defensive linemen throughout the game, so the star players are able to stay fresher in the fourth quarter.
“When we get 11 of 18 sacks in the fourth quarter, that shows we're wearing down teams because we're so fresh,” said Sickels. “When you're able to get 11 of 18 sacks on the year in the fourth quarter, that just shows we're in good shape.”
The sophomore defensive end sang Coach Spencer’s praises, claiming Coach Chaos was a large part of the group’s success. Spencer’s attitude and intensity gets the unit going, and motivates them to give it their all on every single down.
“Spence just brings intensity,” Sickels said. “He’s the same guy you get in the videos. He's always loud. He's always going to have a great attitude. He's always going to liven practices up. Some of the guys if we come out flat, he's going to get in our face and practice just turns around. But he's definitely a fun coach to play for.”
While the season is still young, it seems that the Nittany Lions will go as far as Sickels, Coach Spencer, and the rest of the defensive line can take them in 2015.
Jeff Capanelli is a junior, broadcast journalism major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism
Jeff Capanelli is a senior from Fair Haven, New Jersey, majoring in broadcast journalism. He will be contributing to the Centre County Report and ComRadio during the 2016 fall semester.
After being a talk show co-host for two years, Jeff now produces and hosts his very own talk show on ComRadio: The Jeff Capanelli Hour. He also contributes to ComRadio’s sports department with written columns, podcasts, live production and play-by-play of various Penn State sports.
Jeff spent the spring of 2016 in Los Angeles, California as a member of the inaugural Penn State Hollywood program. He worked as a video production & strategy intern for Disney Interactive Media, focusing specifically on emerging content.
That following summer, Jeff worked as an editorial intern for Scout Media in New York City.