Ever since Aaron Maybin left early for the NFL following a brilliant redshirt sophomore season in 2008, Penn State's defensive ends unit just hasn't been the same. The performance has been solid, but unspectacular in each of the past three seasons. Most programs would be satisfied with the production since 2008, but Penn Staters have been spoiled by the slew of All-American candidates that emerged year in and year-out throughout most of the past decade.
This Penn State defensive ends could return to form in 2012. The unit has an excellent combination of battle-tested veterans and highly-regarded players that are ready to prove themselves. If one or two of the younger guys are able to make an impact, this could be the best DE unit in years. More importantly, opposing quarterbacks will not be given the time to test a thin and untested secondary.
Massaro and Stanley should be locks to start, barring any injuries or unforeseen circumstances. Massaro was a force in 2010 before a second torn ACL sidelined him for a year-and-a-half. If he maintains his speed, Penn State should have its best edge rusher since Aaron Maybin. All reports indicate there has not been much of a drop-off since the last time Massaro saw live action in 2010.
Stanley began seeing meaningful time as a true freshman in 2009, and has steadily improved each year. There is no reason to think he won't continue to develop in 2012. The senior finished with 4.5 sacks in 2011. Expect his production and leadership to increase during his final season as a Nittany Lion.
Olaniyan and Barnes were highly recruited players that will get a chance to work their way into the rotation this year. Along with Kerner, each are competing to work their way up the depth chart. Olaniyan made the biggest splash at the Blue-White Game by recording three sacks. However, two of those sacks were caused by blown blocking assignments along the offensive line, including one where he made it to the quarterback completely untouched. Bars raised eyebrows when he committed to Penn State and caused one of many stars debates. In his limited playing time last season, he has proved to be an effective special teams player. He had a strong performance in the Blue-White Game and his role should increase in 2012. Schwan will likely take a redshirt year to bulk up. Remember his name as he will likely be a force sometime down the road.
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