Three defensive ends make Penn State football’s pass rush a ‘different animal’ in 2022
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In early April, James Franklin told reporters Penn State was in the market for an edge rusher in the transfer portal.
Shortly after, one of the Nittany Lions' top targets in the 2021 class, Chop Robinson, left his hometown team in Maryland to come to Happy Valley.
The blue and white will have a new-look attack coming off the edge with Robinson, five-star Dani Dennis-Sutton and Adisa Issac, who missed all last season with torn achilles.
“We are a different animal at defensive end than we were in the spring,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said during Penn State football media day.
Generating pressure off the edge wasn’t a strength for Franklin’s squad in 2021, but Arnold Ebiketie, in his lone season with the team, was among the top pass-rushers in the nation.
Ebiketie tallied 62 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine and a half sacks, resulting in him being selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
His 17 tackles for loss ranked second in the Big Ten, while his nine and a half sacks were good for third, and he played a critical role in Robinson’s second recruitment to Penn State.
“[Ebiketie] called me and told me, ‘Go somewhere where you’re actually needed,’” Robinson said. “He told me it was a big change from his previous school to here and about the development he had once he got here.”
Robinson noted he watched the Silver Spring, Maryland, natives film with Temple and then with the blue and white, and it stood out how much of an impact he had in one campaign and how it can create the same opportunity for him.
Robinson listened to Ebiketies' advice and joined the Nittany Lions.
Penn State finished with the eighth-best recruiting class in 2022, with Dennis-Sutton being the crown jewel of the class.
Dennis-Sutton chose Franklin’s programs over the likes of college football’s elite in Alabama and Georgia.
The blue and white have gotten an influx of talent from Maryland, with guys such as Dennis-Sutton, Robinson and Curtis Jacobs hailing from the state.
Jacobs and Dennis-Sutton’s relationship goes well beyond suiting up together in Happy Valley, as the two were high school teammates.
The duo of defensive stars played together at the McDonogh School, and Jacobs was ecstatic when they could reunite at Penn State.
“I've seen exactly the same stuff I saw in high school with him coming in working as hard as he could,” Jacobs said. “Our high school didn't do morning workouts like that, we worked out on our own, but he brought that coming in at 6 am working out every morning.”
Jacobs also mentioned the five-star defensive end is someone he’s learned from since high school, and it’s great to team back up with him.
With the additions of Robinson and Dennis-Sutton paired with Issac’s return, the Nittany Lions' defensive ends have gone from a position of need to a strength.
“Everybody here wants everyone to be great,” Robinson said. “There’s no selfishness here.”
Entering last season, Issac was expected to have a huge impact before sustaining a torn achilles, and staying healthy throughout camp and the year is a top priority for him.
Issac noted he’s not 100 percent yet, but he claimed he will play in Penn State’s season opener against Purdue.
“I’m looking forward to being back on the field,” Isaac said. “Took a lot of mental reps. So I'm definitely looking forward to displaying them on the field.”
The injury marked the first time in his career he dealt with a serious injury, but he worked with fellow defensive lineman P.J. Mustipher in his recovery process.
Mustipher also sustained a major injury when his season was lost in week six against Iowa as his left knee popped.
The duo of Issac and Mustipher spent the spring and summer working to get back on the gridiron.
“Sometimes you need somebody to lean on, especially going through something like that in the middle of the season. Being there to help push him and him pushing me goes hand in hand,” Issac said. “Having that brotherhood being there for him any time he has a question, and it's keeping the same positive mindset and pushing forward.”
With Mustipher and Issac back in the fold after injuries last season, paired with Robinson Dennis-Sutton and the plethora of quality edge rushers the Nittany Lions have, the sky's the limit for this group.
“The ceiling is so high,” Isaac said. “There’s a lot of potential in the d-line. We have to put it together during camp and then into the season.”
Alex Rocco is a rising junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org