Key Returnees: Austin Johnson (SO), Tyrone Smith (SR)
Key Departures: DaQuan Jones, Kyle Baublitz, Derek Dowrey (to O Line), Brian Gaia (to O Line)
Newcomers: Anthony Zettel (JR, from DE), Tarow Barney (JR, JUCO), Parker Cothren (RS FR), Antoine White (FR)
Projected Starters: Johnson
Highlights From 2013
DaQuan Jones, DaQuan Jones, and DaQuan Jones. It's a damn shame he played with a bum elbow/shoulder for the last 6 games, because he was generally unstoppable in the first half of the season. The big boy was wrecking shop, displaying the best hands of anyone on the defensive line. And, of course, weighing north of 315lbs, he had the best anchor. He drew the double team more often than not, despite finally getting to play the coveted "3" technique (outside shoulder of the guard).
I was skeptical of Kyle Baublitz manning the "1" technique (outside shoulder of the center, where you typically get plowed by double teams from the center and guard in run plays), because the 4th year junior was atypically tall at 6' 5", and he was a defensive end as a sophomore. But Baublitz played with excellent pad level for a tall dude, and (//use Russian accent) Baublitz strong like bull. I'll continue to maintain that he'd have been a prototype for a "5" tech defensive end (head up on an offensive tackle) in a 34 defense - but hey, that wasn't in the cards when we only had 2.5 healthy linebackers on the roster last year.
Austin Johnson looks like he could be a good one. He logged one sack and 3 tackles for loss as a freshman, playing a bit more nose than off. He figures to see a lot more time this season, as the only guy on the roster to have played a snap at defensive tackle for Penn State. And don't sleep on Tyrone Smith. The former walk-on earned a scholarship from BOB last year, and kilt a few opponents serving as the wedge buster on kickoff, including a hit against Michigan that I felt in Maryland. At 6'4" and just 260 lbs, he's not exactly what you're looking for from a college defensive tackle. But he'll stick his head in there, that's for certain.
Did I mention DaQuan Jones? I believe I did. He's gone. And Kyle Baublitz? He's gone too. I was also impressed by Brian Gaia in the limited snaps he saw last year. He's now on the other side of the ball.
No, friends, Penn State's roster features just two - freaking two - defensive tackles north of 280 lbs, and one of those is newcomer Tarow Barney, wearing Jared Odrick's (Tamba Hali's, DaQuan Jones') #91 in your program at 290 lbs. That's not ideal. On the plus side, no one runs the ball up the gut anymore (unless it's a QB draw), choosing sissified horizontal schemes instead. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.
What to Watch In the Blue-White Game
Just like the defensive ends, the tackles present an smorgasbord of questions. Who is #91? (Tarow Barney) Is that Scott Paxson wearing #41? (No, that's Parker Cothren). Assuming some opponent does try to run up the middle, will we be able to anchor against double teams and/or keep our young linebackers clean? If everyone but Johnson and Barney are defensive end size, can we get some pass rush up the middle? My eyes will be glued.