Three Things to Love in 2012: Penn State Defense

Linebacker Gerald Hodges pumps up the crowd as the Penn State defense clamps down on the Iowa offense, Oct. 8, 2011. (BSD/Mike Pettigano)

We've given you the bad news on offense and defense. Yesterday, we gave you the good news for the offense. Today I'm giving you the good news for the defense. Kind of works out nicely that way.

Every four years or so, Penn State fields a mediocre defense. Of course, "mediocre defense" by Penn State standards is equivalent to "pretty good" almost anywhere else in major college football. We're not sure what Penn State will be able to field this year, mainly due to some pretty big graduations combined with Ted Roof's arrival as defensive coordinator.

But as we've come to expect, there are plenty of positives to look forward to this season from the Penn State defense. Here are three of them...

1. Linebacker U

Michael Mauti is still coming back from an ACL. Khairi Fortt dislocated his knee cap in practice this week. But both are likely to return full-strength this fall, joining fellow starters Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges, to once again make up one of the best linebacker corps in the nation. Penn State has about five linebackers that could start in week one. And to tie a nice bow on top of all this, the Nittany Lions get linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden back on staff. He could have gone almost anywhere to be the same position coach, as I'd imagine plenty of top-flight programs would have made room for a teacher with his skill. But when Bill O'Brien called on him to stay in Happy Valley, Vandy obliged, and Penn State is incredibly better for it.

2. Playing Ten Yards of the Receivers... Buh-Bye

With the arrival of Ted Roof as Penn State's new defensive coordinator--whether you like the hire or not--will mean the Nittany Lions are set to play an aggressive style of defense we haven't seen in a long time. You know those games when Tom Bradley would have the benefit of knowing the opposing teams were on the ropes, and sent a few blitzes to finish them off? Well, that could be something we see more often, and with greater vigor from this new defensive mindset. The soft zone coverages that admittedly worked so well for so long will be now just a part of the defensive package Penn State fields. Roof's defenses are ball-hawking units that pressure the receivers and force the offense to make mistakes, not just sit back and wait for the mistakes to come to them. It could be a very wild ride, but a fun one for sure.

3. "White Maybin"

Okay, so that's just a bit racist. But Pete Massaro has been on the verge of being a very special defensive end for the last few seasons, but missed 2011 with an ACL. Now he's back, and apparently tearing up the practice field. Telling reporters that he's now at "80 to 85 percent," observers have been pleasantly surprised to see just what a less-than-perfect Massaro can do this year. If he continues to heal as expected, his 100 percent might be the difference along the defensive line--specifically at defensive end--Penn State has missed since about 2008.

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