2018 Penn State Preseason Superlatives: Defense, Part 1

By Joe McIntyre on August 10, 2018 at 8:04 am
Sep 9, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions safety Garrett Taylor (17) reacts after a tackle during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Beaver Stadium.

© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports


College football is three weeks away. How crazy is that? The Nittany Lions are probably going to win 15 games this year, which is so cool, and we all can't wait to witness it.

Recently, the RLR staff took a look at preseason look at the 2018 Penn State offense. You can read Part One here, and Part Two here. But while we wait for these next three meaningless weeks of summer to pass, the RLR staff took a preseason look at the 2018 Penn State defense. Today is part one of our dffensive superlatives, with part two coming next week.

Most Improved Player

Garrett Taylor
Every offseason until now for Taylor involved injuries and position changes. For the first time, the former four-star recruit is getting a full offseason of reps at the position he'll play in the fall. — Dan Smith

When it comes to pure talent, there aren't many people in Penn State's loaded secondary who can hold a talent to Taylor, his struggles have been related to his health and learning a new position. Now that he's healthy and has a year under his belt of playing safety, look for him to thrive. — Bill DiFilippo

I'm going to agree with my fellow staff members and go with Garrett Taylor. James Franklin has mentioned that he and Nick Scott would be his starting safeties if the season started tomorrow, and that's a vast improvement from where Taylor's been. — Kaitlyn Dividock

Shane Simmons
It will be hard for any one defensive end to have a huge year statistically, but I expect the former five-star recruit to take a huge step this fall, building on his impressive finish in 2017. — Matt de Bear

Tariq Castro-Fields
TCF is going to cause some turbulence in the secondary this season, and even with John Reid and Amani Oruwariye back there, I think it's safe to pencil him in for a handful of picks this year (perhaps even a game sealing one against Ohio State??). — Joe McIntyre

TCF showed a lot of promise as a true freshman. With a full year under his belt, he should thrive as the third corner. If he takes a step forward, he could be the piece that makes this secondary elite. — Matt Filipovits

Most Important Player

Manny Bowen
Welcome back, Manny. Don't worry, you're only the most important guy at the defense's biggest question mark. He may not be the guy vs. Appalachian State, but Bowen has the size and experience to slide into the middle, or step back into his prior role outside. Either one will be a crucial spot for the Nittany Lions. — Matt de Bear

Ryan Buchholz
He's not a star at this point, but Buchholz is going to start at defensive end and very likely play some tackle in place of Robert Windsor on passing downs. His versatility as a pass rusher was already important last season (see the defense after he departed against Ohio State) and will be even more so this year with question marks at DT. — Dan Smith

Shareef Miller
There is a new Sheriff in town and it's Sheriff Shareef. Conservatively speaking, I would expect 20 sacks and 30 TFL for the Sheriff in 2018. — Joe McIntyre

Whomever starts at middle linebacker
A bit of a cop out, but someone — whether it be Jan Johnson or Manny Bowen or someone else — has to be the leader in the middle. I don't know who it's going to be, but it's going to be the biggest question mark facing Brent Pry heading into the season. — Bill DiFilippo

Because things are still up in the air, I'll say whoever slots into the middle linebacker position permanently. This will clear up more once September inches closer, and then we'll have our answer. — Kaitlyn Dividock

John Reid
Penn State's secondary fell apart late in a few games last season, which may have cost the Nittany Lions a shot at the playoff. With Reid healthy, that does not happen again. — Matt Filipovits

Player Most Likely to Surprise

Garrett Taylor
I've been a fan since he signed with Penn State, despite what Bill will tell you. But he's finally had an off season without a position change, and without a major knee injury to rehab from. I expect him to grab a safety spot and not let go. — Matt de Bear

Jan Johnson
It is easy to look at Johnson being mentioned as a starter as an indictment of the serious depth issue at MLB. But Johnson's emergence could simply mean he's a diamond in the rough that the staff is excited about, and it's worth giving him a chance to be the next Brandon Smith (before the next actual Brandon Smith). — Dan Smith

John Reid
I don't think it's that Reid's talent that will surprise people because people know he's good. But people will likely forget how good he was in 2016 and be like, "Oh sh*t, my guy Johnny is good!!" — Joe McIntyre

Nick Scott
Scott has been around forever, and I think it says a lot about him that he is firmly entrenched (by all accounts) as one of two starting safeties. Look for him to be a steady hand at the back of Penn State's defense despite being a first-time starter at a new-ish position. — Bill DiFilippo

Nick Scott is the guy to look at for a surprising season. I think with his new role as a defensive captain and starting safety, plus some talented teammates assisting him in the secondary, he has a brilliant year. — Kaitlyn Dividock

Zech McPhearson
Brent Pry loves to rotate corners and with Haley and Campbell gone, McPhearson will be called on a lot more often. He had a great offseason and will make solid fourth corner for the Lions in obvious passing downs. — Matt Filipovits

Freshman With the Biggest Impact

Micah Parsons
How can it be anyone else? The kid is too talented to not make himself known early on this year. — Matt de Bear

There are other talented freshmen on this team, but Parsons is a top-five talent nationally at a position with no obvious answer. He'll get playing time right away and has the talent to make a difference somewhere where they desperately need it, even with his inexperience. — Dan Smith

Even with Manny Bowen's return (which is huge, by the way), there's no doubt that Micah will wreck some folks behind the line of scrimmage this year. (Picture strip sack of Shea Patterson with 11:34 left in Q4 and Lions up 17 in Ann Arbor.) — Joe McIntyre

I tried picking someone else, but Parsons is a freak of nature who might be too good to keep off the field. There might be some growing pains, but the high points will turn heads. — Bill DiFilippo

I mean, how do you not pick this dude? He's going to eat people's lunch money on a consistent basis and that rules. — Matt Filipovits

I have my sights set on Micah Parsons getting in-game snaps as a true freshman, especially as the rumors that he'll see playing time as the weak-side linebacker keep pouring in. I think he'll be utilized more as a situational player to start, but look for Franklin to not hesitate slotting him into a more permanent starting role if his fellow LBs struggle early. — Kaitlyn Dividock

Most Missed Player from 2017

Marcus Allen
I don't think Allen ever got as much credit as he deserved for his on field play. The man was a force against the run, and improved tremendously against the pass. Those are big shoes to fill. — Matt de Bear

Beyond his talent and leadership, I can't really imagine what the post-game videos will look like without his dance moves. Already upset about it. Need someone to step up immediately! — Joe McIntyre

Curtis Cothran
Kevin Givens is going to do some nice things as a pass rusher inside, but at his size, I doubt he'll be able to combine the pass rushing and run defending that Cothran had out of the 3-tech in 2017. — Dan Smith

Jason Cabinda
That middle linebacker question mark is huge, and Cabinda was so good for so long at the heart of the defense. Add in that there's no clear-cut replacement and this is an easy answer. — Bill DiFilippo

Cabinda was a solid contributor for a long time in Happy Valley, but his leadership will be missed most. If the Nittany Lions can't find a guy to fill his role, it will be clear just how important he was the past two years. — Matt Filipovits

I'd say it's between Jason Cabinda, whose role will be one of the most difficult to replace because of his skull-cracking performances on the field coupled with his natural, vocal leadership, or Marcus Allen, due to the simple fact that he's without a doubt one of the best safeties in school history. — Kaitlyn Dividock