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A 'Way Too Early' 2016 Penn State Football Depth Chart: Defense

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Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the long and dreary football off-season is upon us, we're going to do the only thing we have left- speculate wildly about the upcoming season! On Wednesday, Nick took a shot at putting together the 2016 depth chart for the offense. Today, we ponder about what Penn State's defensive depth chart will look like against Kent State on September 3, 2016. We will break this down infinitely more in the coming months, but for now, here's what we think the Nittany Lions defense will look like on opening day.

Defensive End

Starters: Garrett Sickels, Torrence Brown

Reserves (in order): Evan Schwan, Curtis Cothran, Shane Simmons, Kevin Givens, Daniel Joseph, Shaka Toney

Sickels is an obvious choice to return as a starter, and could see a huge leap in productivity as the sole returning starter on the defensive line. Brown's career is reminiscent of Anthony Zettel's first two seasons at Penn State- somewhat buried on the depth chart, but whenever he stepped foot on the field he made everyone take notice. There seems to be a good chance Brown leads Penn State in sacks in 2016 by a wide margin. Schwan has gained valuable experience heading into his junior season and has the potential to develop into a very productive player as an upperclassman. Cothran has been impressive in limited time and will play a much larger role in 2016. The door is open for at least one redshirt or true freshman to break into the regular rotation. SHane Simmons has an extremely high ceiling, but he may likely need to take a redshirt season to add some bulk.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Parker Cothren, Antoine White

Reserves (in order): Robert Windsor, Ryan Buchholz, Kamonte Carter, Ellison Jordan, Michael Dwumfour

Cothren and White have been effective as part of the two-deep, but each have giant shoes to fill in replacing Zettel and Austin Johnson. Both deservedly enter the offseason as the clear starters at tackle. Buchholz and Carter slide inside to add some much needed depth to the interior. Buchholz has impressive speed for his size and could develop into a Zettel-like presence. He should see plenty of snaps as a redshirt freshman. The overall lack of depth and experience upfront means that Windsor, Jordan and Dwumfour will each need to be prepared to make an impact in 2016- they each should see the field, regardless if they are ready or not.

Linebacker

Starters: SAM- Brandon Bell, MIKE- Jason Cabinda, WILL- Nyeem Wartman-White

Reserves (in order): Manny Bowen, Jake Cooper, Von Walker, Cameron Brown

Bell, Wartman-White and Cabinda should all be locked in as starters heading into the fall, especially following Troy Reeder's surprising departure to play at Delaware. Wartman-White will move back to his original position on the outside, and promptly obliterate everything on his side of the field. After filling in at the MIKE position following Wartman-White's week one injury, Cabinda has the inside spot locked down through 2017. Cooper and Bowen received valuable time in 2015 and both should increase their roles as a regular part of the rotation. Never count out Von Walker, either. The former walk-on continues to prove he can contribute with each opportunity- whether it be on offense, defense or special teams.

Safety

Starters: FREE- Marcus Allen, STRONG- Koa Farmer

Reserves (in order): Malik Golden, Troy Apke, John Petrishen, Ayron Monroe, Andrew Pryts

This is where things get a bit hazy. Golden seemed to have the inside track to be a full-time starter in 2015, but really struggled at times after replacing Jordan Lucas during the final few games of the season. Apke could slide over to strong safety, but it seems like Farmer has enough upside to take the starting position with a strong offseason. Allen had a sophomore slump, but should easily bounce back by refocusing on his technique that made him a standout as a true freshman- if not, the speedy Apke will be ready to take his place. To make things more muddied, Allen could replace Lucas at the strong safety position, or remain where he has been since replacing Ryan Keiser midway through the 2014 season. We may not have a clear idea what to expect at safety next year until the week one depth chart is released.

Cornerback

Starters: Grant Haley, John Reid

Reserves (in order): Christian Campbell, Garrett Taylor, Jordan Smith, Amani Oruwariye, Zechariah McPhearson

Haley and Reid both performed well enough to lock down the starting positions heading into the fall. Campbell has proven to be a well-rounded and reliable corner, and will see much more playing time as a junior. There is plenty of hype surrounding Taylor, who some believe will end up starting at either cornerback or safety next year. It's difficult to project someone usurping a starting job before seeing them on the field, but Taylor has sky-high potential with excellent size for a corner and off-the-charts athleticism. The door should be open for Oruwariye and McPhearson to battle it out for some early playing time.

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What do you think? Do you agree with our picks? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.