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Penn State's Reason For Hope #4 - Larry Johnson Sr.

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I can remember a few years ago looking ahead to 2009 and thinking Penn State was going to be absolutely loaded on the defensive line. But a funny thing happened between then and now. Phil Taylor and Chris Baker were dismissed from the team. Maurice Evans and Aaron Maybin decided to go pro early. Josh Gaines had the audacity to graduate. And JoePa decided to throw Abe Koroma in the doghouse for a year and throw away the key.

Normally this kind of attrition would be devastating to any average defense. But I'm not worried, and I don't have the sense Nittany Lion fans are worried either. That's because we know that no matter how bad things get with dismissals and injuries, as long as we have Larry Johnson Sr. everything will be okay on the defensive line.

Of course nobody is worried about Jared Odrick, a first team All-BIg Ten selection a year ago who probably could have entered the NFL draft and done quite well for himself last spring. And we know his defensive tackle counterpart Ollie Ogbu is a proven commodity who I think is poised for a breakout season in 2009. With Devon Still, Chima Okoli, and Brandon Ware to back these guys up there's plenty of talent and depth to work with at the defensive tackle position.

But then nobody I read mentionsthe defensive tackles as a concern. The defensive ends are a different story. Penn State has to replace their top three guys on the outside this year. Maybin, Evans, and Gaines accounted for 19 sacks and 31.5 TFL. That's a lot of production to replace, but if there's one area Penn State has proven it can reload, it's on the defensive line.

Jack Crawford is Larry Johnson's latest project this summer. Standing an imposing six-foot-five and 256 lbs. with tremendous explosiveness due to years of playing basketball in England, Crawford has drawn comparisons to Aaron Maybin. I'll go one better than that. I'll go out on a limb and say Crawford will be better than Maybin before it's all said and done. Maybin, as good as he was, was really a one dimensional player. He was an outside pass rushing specialist, but he wasn't really that great against the running game, and he never really developed a bull rush due to the fact he couldn't put on weight. Crawford has explosiveness, but he also has the size Maybin could never obtain which I think will make him an even more dominant player.

On the other side it's going to be interesting to watch Johnson work his magic. It looks like Jerome Hayes is penciled in as the starter at weak side defensive end after two reconstructive knee surgeries in the past two years. It has me a bit concerned that he's our best option, but if he can show the same speed he did before his injuries he'll be a force to wreckon with coming off the edge on third and long.

He'll have to platoon with Kevion Latham on the weak side. Latham saw considerable action last year as a redshirt freshman. He reminds me a lot of Josh Gaines in his physique and his motor. This will be his third year under Johnson's tutelage, so I expect him to be a solid player.