Since we last saw our Nittany Lions in a meaningful game (Mud Bowl win over LSU), the attention has been on who is going to replace Daryll Clark at QB. Now that the waters are becoming a little clearer with the QB situation,we can turn our attention to another big battle; replacing all three starting LBs from 2009.
Penn State will need to replace the production (295 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries) and leadership of All Big Ten LBs Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman, and fan favorite Josh Hull. All three players were drafted into the NFL after the season (Lee 2nd RD, Bowman 3rd RD, Hull 7th RD) a first for Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden:
"For the first time in my tenure, we had three starters drafted [into the NFL], and yet I feel pretty comfortable we're going to have good players on the field," said Vanderlinden, who coaches the linebackers. "And that we have enough of them that we can play six or seven guys."
Penn State churns out quality linebackers on a yearly basis earning the moniker "Linebacker U". Losing your three top tacklers in one off-season (at the same position) is extremely tough, fortunately for Penn State, they tend to reload when it comes to recruiting top notch linebackers. Tackling and instincts are essential for a great Linebacker. Let former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky show you how we tackle at "Linebacker U":
Between questions about his quarterback, health, and succession plan, Joe Paterno has had plenty to worry about this off-season however LB is not one of them:
"I'm a little concerned about some depth, but not at the linebacker spot," Paterno said this spring. "I think the linebackers have done well. I think we'll roll out four or five linebackers that we can play with and compete with."
So what will the depth chart look like come September 4th?
#48 Chris Colasanti - Senior (6-2/ 241) - 2010 is Chris' last opportunity to live up to his considerable hype/potential. Colasanti will get first crack at the "Mike" or middle linebacker position. Injuries and inconsistent play have been the story of his career. Penn State was planning to redshirt him before the early season injuries to both Bowman and Lee forced the coaching staff to pull the redshirt. He finished 2009 with 18 tackles (6 against Eastern Illinois). During 2007 he was one of only two true freshmen (Stefen Wisniewski) to see playing time for the Nittany Lions. Colasanti will be in the running for Academic All-American status this season (3.58 GPA, two-time Academic All-Big Ten). He will be pushed by sophomore Mike Yancich.
#15 Bani Gbadyu- Senior (6-1/ 241) - Gbadyu returns in 2010 with the most starts of any Linebacker. Bani finished the 2009 season with 37 tackles and one forced fumble. Bani enters 2010 as a starter at Outside Linebacker. Bani has been able to show flashes of brilliance during his career at Penn State. Junior RB Stephfon Green has called Gbadyu the fastest LB on the team. During his time in Happy Valley, Gbadyu has packed on the pounds (30) and has still been able to maintain his speed and quickness. Currently splitting reps with sophomore Gerald Hodges, Bani will need to be at his best early in the season in order to solidify himself as the starter.
#42 Michael Mauti- Sophomore (6-2/ 231) - Mauti looks to return to his 2008 form after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2009. Penn State has proved over the years that if you are a young talented true freshman LB, they will find some snaps for you. Mauti joined a list of recent Penn State LBs to earn significant playing time during their true freshman season (Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee). Although not 100% Mauti is still one of, if not the best, option at OLB for Penn State. Depending on his knee and development, Mauti could slide inside to MLB like Posluszny and Connor. Junior Nathan Stupar is currently the backup.
Will see plenty of playing time since Vanderlinden wants to do a Larry Johnson Sr. type rotation with his linebackers this year.
Penn State has the luxury of being seven deep at the linebacking position. Although there is no household name...yet, Penn State's backers will turn some heads in 2010. Some of the backups could easily start on other Big Ten teams (including the over-hyped Michigan State and Wisconsin linebacking units).
#6 Gerald Hodges - Sophomore (6-2/ 228) - Hodges came to Penn State as a Safety prospect. He would have been an outstanding Safety with an amazing blend of size and speed, in the mold of former USC Safety Taylor Mays (minus the cheap shots). Hodges asked for the switch from safety:
"He's got all the tools, and he looks the part, doesn't he?" Vanderlinden said of Hodges. "… He wasn't as comfortable back at safety, and he approached me and asked if we needed help at linebacker, which we did [last year] because Navorro [Bowman] was hurt and Sean was hurt. When I asked why he was reluctant to do this [before his freshman year], he said, 'I didn't know if I could.' Very honestly. Even though he has a great physique and was very talented and very tough, in his own mind he didn't know whether he could play linebacker. He had to prove himself, and he has."
Hodges has looked outstanding in camp and seems to be doing well with the transition to LB. He is currently behind Gbadyu, but if he (Bani) struggles with inconsistent play, expect Hodges to seize the starting position by the Iowa game.
#33 Michael Yancich- Sophomore (6-2/ 236) - Yancich arrived on campus as part of the excellent 2008 recruiting class which included Mauti, D'Anton Lynn, Jack Crawford, Brandon Beachum, Michael Zordich, and the man that occupied a room in JoePa's dog house for three years Brandon Ware. Yancich was last seen wearing headphones and standing as close to Sean Lee as possible on the sidelines during the 2009 season. WR Devon Smith actually had more tackles (1) than Yancich did all last season. Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley does have great things to say about Mike:
"He has great intensity. He's a high-energy guy who is obviously very fast," Bradley said. "We've kind of moved him all over the place, which gives us some versatility. We're asking him to play some strong safety. We want to see what he can do in the first couple practices."
Expect him to provide some depth at MLB and be part of Vanderlinden's rotation.
#34 Nathan Stupar - Junior (6-1/ 231) - A local State College High product, Stupar has been an outstanding special teamer for the Nittany Lions during his first few seasons on the team. Stupar is the leading returning tackler for the LBs finishing 2009 with 31 tackles(10th on team), 1 sack and 1 INT. Stupar has been splitting reps with Mauti this summer, but is expected to start the season as the backup. If Mauti is unable to perform, expect Stupar to get the first crack at the position.
#11 Khairi Fortt- Freshman (6-2/ 233) - Fortt is the defensive prize jewel of the 2010 recruiting class. Fortt could potentially see some time at OLB, but could also switch spots with Mike Hull and earn a redshirt in 2010. Fortt looks to become the latest true freshman to make an immediate impact on defense for the Nittany Lions.
See you next year
Numbers and names to remember in 2011.
#43 Mike Hull- Freshman (6-0/ 211) - One of the top linebacking prospects of the class (no relation to Josh). Could potentially see time as a true freshman, but coaches would be wise to allow a redshirt to get stronger. Aggressive, quick, and excellent in coverage, Hull will be an outstanding linebacker for Penn State in the future.
#32 Dakota Royer- Freshman (6-1/ 210) - Undersized HS defensive end. Royer has already been notified that he will be redshirting this season (an excellent chance for him to get his weight and grades up). Eventually could be a TIm Shaw type stand-up DE/rush LB but will need to keep his grades in check if he is ever going to realize his full potential.
#40 Glenn Carson- Freshman (6-3/ 237) - Another MLB candidate. Carson was in JoePa's dog house last year due to an underage drinking issue. Carson has great size and speed. Has the potential to boom or bust.
A lot of things would need to happen first in order to have this starting three.
#46 Ken Pollock - Sophomore (6-0/ 194) -Scout team.
#54 James Van Fleet - Sophomore (6-0/ 224) - 5 tackles in 2009, expect the same this season. The 2010 Paul Cianciolo Award winner for defensive player most likely to be mentioned "in the mix" (for a starting position).
#31 Nick Delligatti- Freshman (6-0/ 206) - He may wear #31, but this kid is not Shane Conlan, Andre Collins, or Paul Posluszny.