The Nittany Lions have loaded up with talent at the defensive end position over the past few years, giving them depth at the position unmatched anywhere else on the team. It's taken some time, but it appears the defensive tackles are finally starting to close that gap. Aeneas Hawkins could help them gain even more ground.
Hawkins was one of the nation's most sought after defensive line prospects, holding offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Georgia, and his hometown Ohio State Buckeyes. He committed to the Nittany Lions in August of 2017, just before he would miss his senior year with a foot injury. That injury forced his recruiting rankings to drop a good bit, as he fell from the No. 284 player in his class at the time of commitment to the No. 449 player when he signed in December.
The Hawkins File
- Class: RS Freshman
- Size: 6'2/272
- Pos: DT
- Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
- Composite Rating: ★★★
- Composite Rank: No. 449 overall, No. 31 DT
The staff was in no hurry to rush Hawkins back onto the field, as he did not appear in any games as a true freshman. Instead, he spent time on the scout team to help shake off the rust and bulk up to a weight where he would be able to hold his own at the collegiate level.
Hawkins is a tweener in every sense of the word. He's too big to play defensive end but still seems too skinny to be that space-eating defensive tackle. Thankfully, Sean Spencer has had a lot of success with two other players who fit that description: Anthony Zettel and Kevin Givens.
Like Zettel and Givens, Hawkins weighs in at under 285 pounds, which is very skinny for a defensive tackle. He does, however, have the type of athleticism and speed that will allow him to be a productive player up the middle.
Hawkins still needs to put on some weight before he's really ready to take that next step. Thankfully, the Nittany Lions finally have the depth at defensive tackle to allow him to do so. Robert Windsor, Antonio Shelton, PJ Mustipher, and Fred Hansard will likely operate the two-deep, with Judge Culpepper and Damion Barber also vying for time. If there's one advantage Hawkins has over some of the other younger guys, it's that he's the only one with his particular skill set.
Hawkins probably won't make all that much of a splash in 2019, but he will still see the field when the opportunity presents itself. Gaining that experience will go a long way for the perceived long-term project. If he shows enough promise in mop-up duty this season, he could pave the way for a bigger role in 2020, as both a key member of the rotation and a potential passing-down specialist.