Penn State Football Position Preview: Linebackers
To begin looking at the linebacker position for the Penn State Nittany Lions, the loss of All-American Micah Parsons has to be acknowledged first and foremost.
Parsons has decided to opt out of his junior season and prepare for the NFL Draft amid his concern for potential health risks associated with COVID-19 and playing in the fall. He is projected to be a high first round selection.
While many respect Parsons’ decision, it’s a massive blow to the position group in 2020. He was considered to be one of the best returning defensive players in college football this season, and his talent will be difficult to replace in Happy Valley.
With his departure, the Nittany Lions have lost their entire starting linebacker corps from the 2019 season as Cam Brown and Jan Johnson finished their respective Penn State careers and moved on to the NFL.
With that being said, coach James Franklin does a great job at finding blue chip prospects at the linebacker position leaving the team with plenty of talent heading into 2020 and beyond.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the linebacker position for this upcoming season.
The starting MIKE linebacker heading into the season looks to be redshirt junior Ellis Brooks. He spent last season backing up Johnson but played in 13 games racking up 40 total tackles and three sacks.
Brooks is a good tackler and plays a key role in run defense. He has the experience to step in and make an immediate impact.
At the SAM linebacker position, expect true sophomore Brandon Smith to win the starting role. Smith played the majority of his snaps on special teams and saw little action as Brown’s backup in 2019, but the coaching staff has high praise for him.
Smith was a five-star recruit out of Mineral, Virginia and displayed bursts of raw power, size and length in his limited opportunities on the field. Look for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry to maximize Smith’s ability and unleash his potential in 2020.
Replacing Parsons at the SAM position, looks to be Jesse Luketa as he was the reserve at the position in 2019.
Luketa is the most diverse of the trio, as he has the ability to play all three positions if called upon. He played in 13 games last season, starting in two.
After the projected starters, the first linebacker that looks to come off the bench appears to be redshirt sophomore Charlie Katshir.
Katshir is the only experienced, scholarship player off the bench for the Nittany Lions and will see a large role on the team for that reason. He will see an extended role on special teams and will receive limited playing time on game day.
Lance Dixon is a redshirt freshman after an early-season decision by Franklin to keep him sidelined in 2019 after consistent play from the position.
Dixon has shown flashes in camp, which may lead to the coaching staff giving him some reps in a reserve role throughout the season.
While this may be a young, inexperienced position group for the Nittany Lions, there is plenty to be excited about in 2020 and beyond.
Austin Boley is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.