Bill O'Brien won over many Penn State fans with the announcement he would retain Larry Johnson Sr. during his introductory press conference. Besides being a fantastic recruiter, LJ Sr. has developed outstanding defensive lines on an annual basis.
What should Penn State fans expect from the DL in 2012? Future first-round pick Devon Still will certainly be missed, and replacements need to be found at DE for Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore. But with a mix of productive veterans, an outstanding edge rusher returning from injury and a handful of talented but untested players, there is reason for excitement.
|More Blue-White Countdown 2012…|
|Special Teams (Mike) - 4.9.12|
|Defensive Backfield (Cari) - 4.10.12|
|Linebackers (Mike) - 4.11.12|
|Defensive Line (Jared) - 4.12.12|
|Offensive Line (Devon) - 4.13.12|
|Wide Receivers (Jeff) - 4.17.12|
|Tight Ends (Jeff) - 4.16.12|
|Running Backs (Mike) - 4.18.12|
|Quarterbacks (Kyle) - 4.19.12|
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.
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, and his pass deflection 30 yards downfield against Ohio State was a thing of beauty.
Incoming Freshman: Evan Schwan (FR)
Olaniyan, Barnes and Baublitz were all 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. Keep an eye on this group at the Blue-White Game as it should be fun to watch the competition unfold. Bars saw limited action last year, but at 226 pounds is rather undersized for a B10 defensive end. Schwan will not be around until the summer, but expect him to take a redshirt to bulk up.
Hill had quite an impressive year in 2011, but his accomplishments went largely unnoticed as he played in the very large shadow of Devon Still. The Steelton, PA native had 59 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble during his junior campaign. However, this year he will be receiving more attention from opposing offensive lines while Devon Still is playing on Sundays. He has the opportunity to carry the torch of dominating defensive tackles, and don't be shocked if he is in the same class as Still and Jared Odrick by the end of the season. DaQuan Jones saw plenty of action in 2011, and expect him to start alongside Hill in 2012. James Terry should see a lot of time in the rotation as well.
Incoming Freshmen: Derek Dowrey (FR), Austin Johnson (FR), Brian Gaia (FR), Jamil Pollard (FR)
In addition to Terry, Hailes and Zettel should find themselves in LJ Sr.'s rotation in 2012. Both were highly recruited players that have put in their time and should be ready to contribute. Zettel reportedly had a strong redshirt freshman campaign and was very disruptive on the practice squad. Hailes is extremely athletic for his size, and will be interesting to see what he can do on the field. However, issues with blood clots have held him out of spring practice thus far, and it's unsure if this will impact him in the fall. One or both could really make a name for themselves this season.
Of the four freshman defensive tackles arriving in the summer, one or two may see time in LJ Sr.'s deep rotation. My money is on Pollard, but Gaia had plenty of interest from top programs and could find himself on the field earlier than expected (assuming he doesn't get moved to OL). Dowrey and Johnson will likely take a redhshirt, but could surprise many fans that weren't quite impressed with their star ratings. If LJ Sr. thinks a defensive lineman is worth a scholarship, I'm inclined to believe him.
Stay tuned- tomorrow Devon takes a look at the offensive line.