Penn State Football Position Preview: Defensive Line
Penn State has always prided themselves on defense.
Last season, the Nittany Lions were ranked as one of the top ten team defenses in the nation. That comes all in part with the defensive line.
This season, the trenches have seen many changes. Not only have players left for the NFL Draft, but former defensive line coach Sean Spencer took a position as a defensive line coach for the New York Giants. The “Wild Dogs” era in Penn State Football has ended.
Head coach James Franklin filled the position with John Scott Jr., who held the same position at the University of South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ defense ranked 53 in team defense last season with 24 sacks and 158 rushing yards per game.
The Nittany Lions lost key components on the defensive line, such as edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos and nose tackle Robert Windsor. The two combined for 13 sacks in the 2019 season, which led them to be drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Penn State still has talent without the two cornerstones of the defensive line. Redshirt senior Shaka Toney comes into the year as a leader for the Nittany Lions. Along with Toney, senior Antonio Shelton, sophomore Jayson Oweh and junior PJ Mustipher will hold down the fort on the defensive line.
Coming off the edge, Oweh and Toney recorded a combined 11.5 sacks last year. The sheer speed from these two edge rushers cause trouble for the tackles, making the pocket collapse on opposing quarterbacks.
Storming down the middle, Shelton and Mustipher can cause chaos in the backfield. They combined for 54 total tackles and 1.5 sacks last year. They may have not gotten many reps, but the pressure they provide can disrupt the operations for opposing teams.
The starting lineup may consist of a lot of returning seniors, but the substitutes are loaded with talented underclassmen. Among them, Adisa Isaac, the true sophomore, is the youngest reserve available for Penn State.
Isaac was the fifth ranked weakside defensive end in the class of 2019 and first in his home state of New York. Last season, he contributed little to the team, but still provided glimmers of promise for the Nittany Lions.
Last year, Penn State allowed only 95.3 rushing yards per game which was good for fifth best in the nation. Along with that, the defensive line forced 4 fumbles while recording 30.5 sacks.
Along with the returning linemen, the 2020 recruiting class brought in some talent. According to 24/7 Lions, Penn State brought in seven recruits for the trenches. There were three four-star recruits in that class, including Cole Brevard, Coziah Izzard and Zuriah Fisher coming onto the team ready to strike for the Nittany Lions.
Brevard is a big player. Coming in at 312 pounds, the freshmen from Carmel, Indiana is quick off the snap and has the mechanics to shed the opposing blocker. Speed and size are exactly what coach Franklin wants.
As for Izzard, the Maryland native can get around the offensive line and wait for the halfback to hit the hole. The patience can make for a roadblock for opposing running backs, but his lack of speed can prove fatal for the defensive tackle.
Fisher has high praise coming in for the pass defense. He played as a tight end for the Aliquippa Quips, which means he has great hands. With that, he provides excellent man and zone coverage. This can prove vital for the Nittany Lions as they now can defend the screen pass well.
Coming into the 2020 season, Penn State reloaded on the defensive line. With a new coach leading the charge, the trenches may look a bit different than previous years. With the new tactics coach Scott is putting into place, the Nittany Lion defense is ready to make another case to be the best in the nation.
Jonathan Draeger is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.