Blue-White Countdown 2012: Linebackers

MIchael Mauti reacts to the Alabama play, Sept. 10, 2011. (MIke Pettigano/BSD)

Now that the hyperventilating has slowed after yesterday's look at the defensive backfield, we can take some comfort knowing what's in store for today's episode of our Blue-White Countdown 2012: The Penn State Linebackers.

This season has the makings of a great year for this position group, as only one starter will be missing (Nate Stupar), while four others return with part-time or full-time starting experience. Penn State brings back two legitimate first-team all-B1G candidates in Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Not to mention, the nation's best linebackers coach--Ron Vanderlinden--decided to take up Bill O'Brien's offer and stay in Happy Valley.

There might not be a stronger overall position group on this team, as we've come to expect over the last 40 years, than the linebackers. I mean, Penn State is "Linebacker U" for a reason.

Let's take a deeper look below the jump...

More Blue-White Countdown 2012…
Special Teams (Mike) - 4.9.12
Defensive Backfield (Cari) - 4.10.12
Linebackers (Mike) - 4.11.12
Defensive Line (Jared) - 4.12.12
Offensive Line (Devon) - 4.13.12
Tight Ends (Jeff) - 4.16.12
Wide Receivers (Jeff) - 4.17.12
Running Backs (Mike) - 4.18.12
Quarterbacks (Kyle) - 4.19.12

The Starters

#42 Michael Mauti (out spring), RS SR

#6 Gerald Hodges, SR

#40 Glenn Carson, RS JR

#11 Khairi Fortt (injured knee), JR

With Mauti and Fortt nursing injuries this spring, only two of four experienced starters are running with the first team right now. That's actually a good thing, as it allows (and puts pressure on) the younger guys to rise to the occasion. Nothing cures injuries like depth at a position.

Mauti has been somewhat injury-plagued his entire career. He played as a true frosh in 2008, tore his ACL missing all of 2009, dealt with nagging injuries in 2010, and missed most of 2011 with another ACL. (sigh) Let's hope this year he can finally play 100 percent for an entire season, and grab that first round draft spot he's probably good enough to get... when healthy. This spring, it's been revealed that Mauti is preparing his game to play in any of the three linebacker spots this fall. I'm wondering if this means he won't get as many plays per game as he would have without the injury history.

Hodges was Mr. Big Ten Player of the Week, grabbing the honor in consecutive weeks, and becoming the star of the corps by November. He and Carson improved each week working in tandem. I'd look for them to emerge as rocks on this defense by the time this spring is over.

Fortt has been "almost there" for two years now. He has the talent, but hasn't broken through. He was getting the first-team reps this spring before a knee injury sidelined him. Fortt will recover, and regain the frontrunner status for Nate Stupar's old spot.

Best of the Rest

#51 James Van Fleet (1st Tm Spring), RS SR

#33 Michael Yancich, SR SR

#43 Mike Hull, RS SO

#38 Ben Kline, RS FR

Does Van Fleet have a scholarship yet? If not, it's the greatest disappointment I've had watching a fantastic kid not get the reward he deserves. You've heard Van Fleet's name for four years now, always here or there with a nice play almost every game he's been in. His biggest was the block return against Indiana that helped sway the game toward Penn State. Van Fleet is running with the first team this spring, due to Mauti and Fortt on the sideline.

Yancich returns for his final year. It's a bit surprising, after he was moved to tight end last year. But now he's back at his natural position, where he was a very highly recruited player out of high school. Look for Yancich to play more this fall, backing up Carson in the middle.

Hull played last year as a safety, since the position was a bit thin, and Penn State wanted to get his immense talent onto the field in any way possible. Apparently Hull is another linebacker returning home this spring, and should really push the starting guys. Hull won't displace any of the four returning starters, but he can make them look over their shoulder every week and not get complacent.

Kline redshirted last season, but I've heard good things about his work ethic. He's another 'backer who could add some great depth to this unit. I'm expecting to see lots of him playing for the White Squad in two weeks.

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