Larry Johnson, Sr. has been churning out NFL quality defensive linemen throughout his tenure at Penn State. Since 2000, he has produced six first-team All-Americans and even more NFL draft choices. Last year, his defensive tackle rotation had to replace Jared Odrick (first-round selection of the Miami Dolphins). How did they perform, statistically?
[All stats, semi-useless as they may be for defensive tackles, are taken from NittanyAnthology.com]
Ogbu has departed (free agent, Indianapolis Colts), but the other players return. Also notable for his departure is Brandon Ware (two tackles, 49,395 wholly inappropriate tweets), who presumably would've been counted upon in a four-man rotation this season. Who is left to fill the void?
The Presumptive Starters
#71 Devon Still SR 6-5/305 Wilmington, Del. (4-star Rivals, 4-star Scout)
#47 Jordan Hill JR 6-1/316 Steelton, Pa (2-star Rivals, 3-star Scout)
Still is getting the bulk of the attention in pre-season, and briefly flirted with the idea of jumping to the NFL Draft during the winter. He started 12 games at the right defensive tackle position in 2010, and in addition to the stats above, notched a safety when he sacked Minnesota QB Adam Weber in the end zone. He improved steadily throughout 2010 -- he was shoved around quite a bit against Alabama, but had the game of his career against Florida (3.5 TFL):
Devon Still vs Alabama and Florida (via JMPasq)
If you want a different opinion of Still's abilities, please see this highlight clip, apparently produced by Mel Kiper, IV.
Originally a Rutgers commit, Jordan Hill will move into the starting lineup alongside Still. He was a solid #3 DT last season (note that his stats weren't that far below Still's). Here's Jordan doing a quick interview at Lift For Life:
Penn State Football: Jordan Hill Summer Interview (via GoPSUTV)
This spring, Hill won the Jim O'Hora award for exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement during spring practice. With Devon Still likely to receive near-constant double teams from opponents, Hill will be relied upon to clean up the messes in the middle.
#93 James Terry JR 6-3/317 New Castle, Del. (2-star Rivals, 2-star Scout)
#91 DaQuan Jones SO 6-3/316 Johnson City, N.Y. (3-star Rivals, 4-star Scout)
Terry is billed by GoPSUSports as the "one of the most experienced" defensive lineman, yet he was an offensive lineman as recently as 2009 and only had nine tackles last year. Jones got plenty of time as a true freshman in 2010, much of it as an oversized defensive end due to the constant injuries at that position. One would almost have to assume that the coaching staff would prefer to leave Jones at DT this season, as the depth behind these four players is questionable at best.
The Masked Men
75 Evan Hailes FR 6-1/303 Chesapeake, Va. (3-star Rivals, 4-star Scout)
97 Luke Graham FR 6-4/272 Harrison City, Pa. (3-star Rivals, 3-star Scout, ranked as OL)
41 J.R. Refice SO 6-0/262 Jessup, Pa. (Walk-on; NR)
92 Anthony Alosi FR 6-4/286 Marlton, N.J. (2-star Rivals, NR Scout)
96 Cody Castor JR 6-3/280 Uniontown, Pa. (Walk-on; NR)
As you can see, a lot of redshirts and walk-ons remain. Hailes has impressed at times, but was sidelined with blood clots and understandably won't be rushed back into action. His status for 2011 is still unknown. Graham was switched from offense to defense after his redshirt season and, according to PSU's official site, ended the spring as one of the #2 defensive tackles (we'll just assume DaQuan Jones was at DE).
Well, there's some potential here, but it's not hard to see how a major injury to Still (who has a history of them) or Hill could cause significant problems. Jones and Terry are adequate short-term replacements -- though it wouldn't shock me if Jones turned out to be the best player in this unit by November -- but it's clear that there are four guys, then everyone else. It should be interesting to see what Penn State can get out of Hailes and Graham, if anything.