Best and Worst Case Scenarios: Defense

By Matthew Filipovits on July 10, 2018 at 9:00 am
Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and linebacker Cam Brown

Adriana Lacy - Roar Lions Roar

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Penn State's defense will look very different when it takes the field against Appalachian State. What are the best and worst-case scenarios for the unit?

Defensive end

Best Case:

This group becomes the most dominant unit of edge rushers in the Big Ten. Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller each take a step forward and become All-Conference caliber players. Torrence Brown comes back healthy and gives the defensive line a steadying senior presence. Sophomores Shane Simmons, Shaka Toney and Yetur Gross-Matos all increase their production and rack up similar stats to the starters. Jayson Oweh and Nick Tarburton won't have to burn their redshirts, but the duo impress in the four games they see action, only adding to the Lions' depth on the edge.

Worst Case:

Similar to the offensive line position preview, I think the worst case scenario is the unit stays the same. Everybody who contributed last season is back so it's hard to imagine there would be a noticeable drop in production barring injury. The only glaring issues could be Brown's health, or the position room being so crowded, that nobody establishes themselves as the premier pass rusher.

Defensive tackle

Best Case:

Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor prove the perfect compliment to one another. With Givens' finesse style of play and Robert Windsor just bulldozing offensive lineman, coordinators have a hard time scheming for the duo. Antonio Shelton carries over the momentum from spring ball and turns in a solid season as the third guy in the rotation. Ellison Jordan recovers from his knee injury, while Fred Hansard and Damion Barber take advantage of their increased playing time and live up to their four-star potential. At least one of PJ Mustipher, Judge Culpepper, or Aeneas Hawkins shows enough for the staff to burn their redshirt and become a regular contributor.

Worst Case:

Replacing the Cothra/ens and Tyrell Chavis proves too big of a task. Injuries strike at end, forcing Givens to take more reps as an edge rusher again. Shelton underperforms, and Jordan either isn't healthy or still isn't ready to take on a large workload. Hansard and Barber are forced to take more snaps than they're ready for, and play like redshirt freshmen more often than not. The three true freshman are forced into action and show they just aren't big enough yet to be the forces in the middle that Sean Spencer needs.

Linebacker

Best Case:

Koa Farmer and Cam Brown take big steps in their development and give the Nittany Lions two experienced linebackers who can get the job done. Micah Parsons picks up outside linebacker quickly and pencils his name in the starting lineup right away. The freshman shows good enough cover skills and causes havoc when he gets the chance to rush the passer. Jake Cooper, Jarvis Miller, and Jan Johnson all seize their opportunity and give Brent Pry some much-needed depth at an inexperienced position. Dae'lun Darien, Ellis Brooks and Brelin Faison-Waldon prove their ready on special teams and in blowouts before taking on larger roles as the season wears on. Charlie Katshir and Jesse Luketa aren't forced to play too early but are ready if called upon. We've all heard the rumors about Manny Bowen. If the senior has proven to the staff he should be back, he would change the whole dynamic of the position.

Worst Case:

The unit simply can't recover from losing Jason Cabinda to graduation and Bowen to dismissal. Pry uses a revolving door of backers looking for the perfect unit and none of the combos gel. Parsons struggles with his position change before moving back to end, leaving the unit even thinner than expected. No junior or sophomore plays well enough for the staff to have confidence in them, forcing Katshir and Luketa to play early. Coordinators feel confident in running up the middle and one of the safeties has to play up in the box like Marcus Allen often did, leaving the secondary susceptible to big pass plays. With a still young position group, we're right back in this situation next year. 

Cornerback

Best Case:

Despite losing Grant Haley and Christian Campbell, the unit actually takes a big step forward. John Reid doesn't miss a beat after his knee injury and becomes Penn State's best corner again. Amani Oruwariye proves his second team All-Big Ten selection was no fluke and thrives in an increased role. Tariq Castro-Fields builds off of a strong freshman campaign and gives the Nittany Lions a sneaky good three corner set. Zech McPhearson keeps improving after a strong spring, giving the unit another formidable piece. The true freshmen can spend a year redshirting while DJ Brown and Donovan Johnson show what a year on the scout team did for them in mop-up duty in preparation for larger roles in 2019.

Worst Case:

Reid isn't what he was before his knee injury, and Oruwariye struggles as a starter. Castro-Fields and McPhearson don't take as big of steps forward as the staff hopes and lose playing time so the staff can see what some younger players can do. The freshmen underperform as well and the staff is forced to move Lamont Wade, Garrett Taylor or both back to corner to bolster the position.

Safety

Best Case:

Nick Scott wins a starting job and provides some much-needed leadership at a young position. The former running back plays with the aggressiveness that made him a special teams ace, and shows enough coverage skills for opposing quarterbacks to fear throwing to his side of the field. Aside from Scott, Lamont Wade, Ayron Monroe, and Garrett Taylor all show enough for the staff to have confidence in all three. The trio split reps to start with one eventually emerging as the clear best. The other two play well in smaller roles and continue to contribute on special teams. Johnathan Sutherland becomes an ace on special teams filling Nick Scott's former role, while Isaiah Humphries gets to redshirt and plays well in his four games. Both set themselves up to start in 2019 and beyond.

Worst Case:

Inexperience gets the best of the unit. Scott struggles in pass coverage and the unit has similar issues to 2017. Wade, Monroe, and Taylor all struggle in expanded roles forcing the staff to turn to more inexperienced players like Sutherland or John Peterishen. Humphries benefits from enrolling early and gets to play a ton, but has his share of freshman moments. The staff moves one of the corners over to help bolster the position but even that isn't enough to make quarterbacks think twice about taking shots down the field.

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