Depth Charting the 2012 Defense: Defensive Line

Sean Stanley will need some help this year if the defense ends are going to return to form. (Mike Pettigano/BSD)

Yes, how about we move on from 2011. Jeff was kind enough to push us to do this 2012 look-ahead, taking our minds away from the most horrible year in sports history.

After a manic-depressive journey through the quarterback situation heading into next season, we're going to move toward the defensive side of the ball today.

The defensive line is usually one of the Nittany Lions' stalwart power positions. But it seems that ever since the class of 2006 and 2007 was ground into a fine powder by the end of 2009, particularly at defensive end, it's been a shaky adventure along the front four.

At first glance, it would seem we're in line for another iffy depth chart in 2012. But all is not lost. Follow me below the jump for more...

The chart:

DE ELIG/CL DT ELIG/CL
Pete Massaro SR/GR James Terry SR/GR
Sean Stanley SR/SR Jordan Hill SR/SR
C.J. Olaniyan SO/JR DaQuan Jones JR/JR
Kyle Baublitz SO/JR Luke Graham SO/JR
Jordan Kerner FR/SO J.R. Refice SO/JR
Shawn Oakman FR/SO Anthony Alosi FR/SO
Deion Barnes FR/SO Anthony Zettel FR/SO
Jamil Pollard FR/FR
Brian Gaia FR/FR
Derek Dowrey FR/FR
Austin Johnson FR/FR

Defensive Ends

If Pete Massaro returns 100 percent from his second ACL injury, Penn State should at least have two very good starting ends. But look what's behind them--not a whole lot. C.J. Olaniyan saw playing time last year, while Kyle Baublitz got a few snaps as well. If this unit has any chance to be good this fall, some of the redshirt freshmen will need to explode onto the scene with monster debuts.

Penn State won't have any choice but to play the redshirt frosh. So who has the best chance to break into the top two or three slots on the depth chart?

My money is on Deion Barnes (6-4, 245 lbs) and Shawn Oakman (6-7, 260 lbs), as they were rightly redshirted for their first season on campus. When it comes to the line, maturity is everything, and these guys are a year bigger, a year faster, a year older. The thing about a depth chart this thin is that nearly everyone will have to play at some point this fall, so watch for Jordan Kerner in the rotation with the rest of 'em.

Defensive Tackles

For the last four seasons, Penn State has been able to build a system that ensured one star and one upcoming star at the two defensive tackle spots. In 2008 and 2009, it was Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu. In 2010, it was Ogbu and Devon Still. In 2011, it was Still and Jordan Hill.

Hill is a very good player, who complemented Still last season. But is he really the next "star" in the same mold we've seen? I'm really not sure. What we could see this fall is the same level of production from the defensive tackles, but without that dynamite star like Still, Ogbu or Odrick. That's not a bad thing, though it would still be nice to see at least one or two players emerge as go-to tackles when Penn State needs a big play.

James Terry isn't a starter, but definitely a solid No. 2 in the middle. I do really like DaQuan Jones, if he can refine his skills and grow into the role a bit. Remember, Jones was flipped between tackle and end, so he should be more comfortable staying put in the middle.

There is also quite a bit of room here, just like the defensive ends, for the young pups to emerge with a good deal of playing time in 2012. Anthony Alosi and Anthony Zettel came in last class, but enter this season with a redshirt year in the books. Zettel has the tools to make an impact as a backup this fall.

Keep in mind that all of this could be blown up by the new coaching staff (IF it's a new staff this fall). Larry Johnson, Sr. has created a very successful system for the defensive line, one that is very predictable at the same time. But in all likelihood that will chance for the first time in more than a decade.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Jeff's look at the running backs.

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