2017 Spring Position Preview: Linebackers Look to Stay Healthy

By Kevin Fay on March 20, 2017 at 8:00 am
Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda

Rich Barnes, USA Today

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Positional Breakdown
NAme 2017 eligibility 2016 role likely 2017 role pedigree
Jason Cabinda Sr Starter Starter ★★★ (.8256)
Manny Bowen Jr Starter Starter ★★★★ (.9029)
Cam Brown So First Backup Starter ★★★★ (.8929)
Brandon Smith rSr First Backup First Backup N/A
Koa Farmer rJr Backup First Backup ★★★ (.8807)
Jake Cooper Jr Backup Backup ★★★ (.8686)
Jarvis Miller rSo Safety Backup ★★★ (.8457)
Jan Johnson   Backup Backup N/A
Brelin Faison-Walden Fr - Backup ★★★ (.8721)
Ellis Brooks Fr - Redshirt ★★★★ (.9009)

Expected Starters

After being leaders on last years' team, Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen are locks to start at middle and outside linebacker respectively. The other outside spot will be a battle between Cam Brown and Koa Farmer, both of whom played significant roles last year for an injury plagued linebacking corps. 

Expected Backups

Depth is a concern at linebacker yet again this year, though it does not seem to be as dire as a year ago. Brandon Smith stepped in and played a huge role last year on defense when Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda went down for a few weeks early on in the season. He played well in spot duty throughout the remainder of the season. Behind him will likely be Jake Cooper, with Ellis Brooks a candidate to redshirt. On the outside, whoever doesn't start between Koa and Cam will be the primary backup at both outside positions. Jarvis Miller was brought down from the safety position and early enrollee Brandon Faison-Walden could find some early playing time if the injury bug hits again this year. (knocks on every piece of wood in the immediate area)

Battle to Watch 

The big battle will be for the other outside linebacker spot. Koa Farmer came in as one of the more highly touted prospects in James Franklin's first class as a safety. He has flashed that athleticism in blitzing the quarterback last year from the outside but hasn't been able to put it together in the box.

Cam Brown played probably more than expected as a true freshman last year due to every linebacker in the state of Pennsylvania getting hurt within a 2-3 week span. He played well, but showed some freshman mistakes by being out of position at times, with Minnesota's game tying touchdown run comes to mind as a prime example. 

expected outcome

With Bowen and Cabinda anchoring the defense, if they can stay healthy, you could see a return to Linebacker U days. It's been a few years since Penn State had this level of athleticism starting at linebacker, and they could end up being really fun to watch. 

As far as the final position, I think Penn State looks more toward its future and Cam Brown gets the starting role against Akron. That Minnesota play was early on in the season, and he got better and better every week. Koa will still be used in blitz packages, but his role will continue to be the primary backup for now. Don't be surprised to see Faison-Walden come in to play at some point in the season as well. 

looking to the future

Cabinda and Smith are both gone after this year, so that opens up a huge hole in the middle of the defense. Look for Ellis Brooks to step in and be your starter for 2018 with Jake Cooper being his primary backup. Cooper came in with some expectations, but hasn't been able to put it all together as he was forced to play well before he was really ready early on in his career. With three linebacker commits in 2018's class already, don't be surprised to see some of those young faces on the field early. 

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