If there is a more wonderful nickname for a football team than "Linebacker U", I challenge you to prove it.
Penn State, despite some defections transfers, will continue to sport one of the best linebacker units in the entire nation this fall. It's challenging as the best in the Big Ten, and by the end of the season, could result in two day-one NFL Draft picks. The only reason there might not be three is because the other linebacker likely won't enter the draft after this, his junior season.
|More 2012 Position Previews…|
|Running Backs (Cari) - 8.13.12|
|Linebackers (Mike) - 8.14.12|
|Defensive Tackles (Jared) - 8.15.12|
|Special Teams (Tim) - 8.16.12|
|Offensive Line (bscaff) - 8.17.12|
|Tight Ends (Devon) - 8.20.12|
|Defensive Ends (Jared) - 8.21.12|
|Wide Receivers (Dan) - 8.22.12|
|Quarterbacks (Jeff) - 8.23.12|
|Defensive Backs (Cari) - 8.24.12|
This unit got a big boost when position coach Ron Vanderlinden opted to stay at Penn State. Though, he did entertain job offers elsewhere. Since arriving at Penn State in 2001, he's displayed an ability to produce first-rate, NFL-caliber linebackers on an annual basis. He could very well be the best college linebackers coach in the nation. So yeah, it's a good thing Penn State has Vandy on the staff right now.
2012 could get squirrely, should anything unfortunate happen that would wear down this unit's health. But right now everyone looks healthy and hungry to hit someone. Let's just focus on that, shall we?
On the Outside...
Michael Mauti (42), SR - Starter
Last year was supposed to be Mauti's big breakout season, after suffering from a torn ACL in 2009 and another injury-plagued season in 2010. But the ACL monster got him again after just a few games. Maybe, just maybe, Mauti can stay fully healthy this year and put on a show as the undisputed leader of the defense. He only has 114 career tackles, with 67 coming in the up and down 2010 season. Even though he might have little to prove to those inside and around the program, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's hungry to finally get a real, full season of playing time.
Then of course, there was this. At the Big Ten media days, the Penn State players were swamped by reporters asking about the sanctions and the criticism of the program. Mauti was... well...
"It boiled up for a couple of days, but at the same time I get fired up because this is our school," he said. "The people have made this generalization, they say that we put football before education. Who is saying that? Have you read the rankings? Penn State is No. 1 in graduation rates. Penn State graduates eight out of 10 of their players. No other school can say that. To say that my degree means less because of what happened… No way, not a chance.
Gerald Hodges (6) SR - Starter
Hodges might not be the outspoken vocal leader of the team the way Mauti is, but he's no less formidable on the field. He led the team in tackles last season with 106, stepping up with a mid-season stretch unlike anything we've seen in years. Hodges was earned back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performances against Northwestern (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT returned for 63 yards) and Illinois (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass breakups).
Though his game-changing ways trailed off a bit at the end of the season (but really, the entire team trailed off at that point), Hodges worked his way to being one of the top linebackers in all of college football heading into 2012.
As was the case with nearly every Penn State linebacker in 2010, Hodges was hit by injury. He broke his leg on the first play against Alabama, missing four weeks. He returned, but couldn't go full-force, finishing with 31 tackles.
Mike Hull (43) SO - Backup
Hull was one of the possible transfers when it became open season courtesy of the NCAA. But the sophomore stuck with the team for 2012 and should see very good playing time as a result of Khairi Fortt's departure. Hull played in both the linebacker and safety positions last year, along with special teams play, totaling 18 tackles and 1.5 for loss. He was a very highly touted recruit out of high school, and should be a regular in the linebacker and special teams rotations.
Ben Kline (38) RSFR - Backup
Kline was originally a Pitt commit, but switched to Penn State. He redshirted the 2011 season, and should be very active in the linebacker rotation this fall. He has great size at 6-foot-2, 224 pounds. Ben on Twitter: @PopeBenedict38
On the Inside...
Glenn Carson (40) JR - Starter
When Carson was named the starter before the 2011 opener, many were somewhat taken by surprise. That's not to say Carson wasn't right up there contending for the job since the spring, or that he wasn't viewed as a good linebacker. But with Nate Stupar still on the team, it was expected that he and Mauti would not split time at one position on the outside. Mauti would move inside, Stupar outside, and Hodges on the other side. Simple.
But apparently Carson showed enough to earn the job, and he sure didn't disappoint last year. He finished with 74 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and was involved in a few fumbles. Carson had a career high 11 tackles against Alabama. The junior will be Penn State's No. 2 returning tackler this season, and part of a linebacker unit that the rest of the defense will need to lean on more than a few times. Glenn on Twitter: @c4rs0n
Mike Yancich (33) SR - Backup
Never quite able to break into the starting rotation, Yancich has been a very good linebacker in the reserve. He's a good student and well-liked among his teammates. Last season, he was rotated between linebacker and tight end prior to the opener, before returning full-time to his natural position on defense. Yancich has 13 career tackles, but has played significantly on special teams. Mike on Twitter: @Ymike33
Nyeem Wartman (5) True Freshman
Wartman was one of the Penn State recruits who never really wavered once the sanctions were handed down. He's a great prospect, around 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, named to the Big 33 game for Pennsylvania. Wartman earned more praise for his performance in that all-star game, along with a few of his fellow Penn State classmates. Nyeem on Twitter: @PSU_5_iz_AliVe
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