Looking Ahead: Linebackers

Eric Francis

Linebacker U. doesn't replace, they reload. Losing two of the best linebackers in the country in 2012 will make that a difficult task in 2013.

A way-too-early position preview series; included are scholarship and verbally committed Class of 2013 players, while run-on players have been left out of the previews.

Warm Bodies: Glenn Carson (Sen.), Mike Hull (RS Jun.), Ben Kline (RS Soph.), Nyeem Wartman (Soph.*), Gary Wooten (RS Fresh.), Brandon Bell (Fresh.), Zayd Issah (Fresh.)

*NOTE: Wartman will likely receive a medical redshirt for the 2013 season, after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Virginia game.

Outlook: You cannot replace a Gerry Bertier Michael Mauti or a Gerald Hodges. These two were among the tops in college football in 2012, and Mauti, in particular, cannot be replaced for his off-the-field presence. The two combined for 204 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, four forced fumbles, three-and-a-half sacks, and two fumble recoveries. Even at Linebacker U., those numbers will be hard to replace. Trying to replicate Mauti and Hodges isn't going to happen, so the Lions are going to have to find a different way to reload under Ron Vanderlinden.

Carson was a very good compliment to Mauti and Hodges last year, anchoring the middle of the linebackers while playing admirably next to two stellar athletes. His 12 starts will be relied upon heavily by Vanderlinden, as this particular unit is short on experience. The middle linebacker for the Lions is never going to have the biggest stats of the group, so keeping the linebackers in line on the field while contributing 85 tackles again would be a great expectation for 2013.

Hull, who shared some time with Carson in the middle of the unit, and who is the only other linebacker on the team with a start to his name, will likely slide outside to fill one of the spots vacated by Mauti and Hodges. Hull has been a beast on special teams while waiting for his turn at linebacker, and that time has now arrived. Seeing action in every game, Hull was able to tally 58 tackles and four sacks, each of which will have to increase in 2013.

Wartman and Kline will battle for the remaining starting spot, though, like most of the coaches on the squad, Vanderlinden is no stranger to a steady rotation at the linebacker position. Wartman saw action early in the year, and impressed during that time, but his season was cut short after a knee injury in the Virginia game. Kline played in all 12 games, gaining some valuable special teams experience while also notching 18 tackles.

After these four players, Vanderlinden and defensive coordinator John Butler have three players that haven't played a down of collegiate ball. Wooten was a late additions to the Class of 2012, while Bell and Issah are highly touted incoming freshmen that will push the middle and outside linebackers, respectively. And given the lack of depth ahead of them, these five freshmen will be asked to contribute early and often.

Projected 2013 Depth Chart:

Outside Middle Outside
Hull Carson Wartman
Issah Bell Kline


Wooten

Names to Watch: Only Carson will depart after this season, and Penn State has added four linebackers in the past two recruiting classes. This will allow the Lions to be selective if they want to take a linebacker in the Class of 2014, and some of the names that should pop up along the way include: Dante Booker (St. Vincent - St. Mary HS (Akron, OH)), Bryson Allen-Williams (Cedar Grove HS (Ellenwood, GA), Korie Rogers (Buford HS (Buford, GA)), Kevin Crosby (Bamberg Ehrhardt HS (Bamberg, SC)), Troy Reeder (Salesianum School (Wilmington, DE)), Kevin Mouhon (Norcross HS (Norcross, GA)).

As for the remainder of the Class of '13, with the decommitment of Jonathan Walton (and even though he did give the Nittany Lions the played out "they're still in the mix" comment), it remains to be seen who the staff is targeting, if anyone, to take Walton's spot. Not taking anyone over the next three weeks wouldn't be surprising, but given the thin depth above, taking a third linebacker in this class seems like a good decision.

QB - RB/FB - WR - TE - OL - DT - DE - LB - DB - ST


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