Yesterday we looked at the offensive snap counts and where Penn State needs to replace the most production. Today, we'll take a look at the defense.
Garrett Sickels and Torrence Brown are likely the starters to begin this season, despite Evan Schwan having more experience. Injury issues kept him from seeing the field consistently, and when he did return later in the season, Brown was seeing more playing time than he was. It should also be noted that Curtis Cothran is still on the team, he has just moved to defensive tackle and will be in the rotation there barring any injury issues. Walk-on Colin Costagna played briefly at the end of the Michigan State game but has been turning some heads this offseason and may remain in the mix at the end position.
Can any of the freshmen crack the rotation? I would expect to see Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller push for snaps after redshirting the 2015 season. The team flirted with the idea of moving Buchholz to tackle, but it does not appear that they believe he has the weight to hang there.
The Nittany Lions lose their top three defensive tackles, including two NFL talents. This is the most drastic dropoff from 2015 to 2016 in terms of replacing snaps. Things may be even tougher now with Kam Carter's dismissal from the program. Cothren and White were playing second unit snaps and will almost definitely remain in the mix, but neither is a sure bet to start. JUCO transfer Tyrell Chavis is here to fill in a similar role that Tarow Barney did the last two years, transfer BRENON THRIFT is a sophomore, and redshirt freshman Robert Windsor will likely get opportunities as well. Anyone who tells you they know how things will shake out here is overstating their knowledge, though.
Nyeem Wartman-White's injury in the season opener left him with just 16 snaps. Jason Cabinda moved to middle linebacker, opening up a starting spot for Troy Reeder, who has transferred to Delaware. That means that the assumed starters are Cabinda, Wartman-White, and Brandon Bell, two of whom have had injury issues throughout their Penn State careers. Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen showed promise with their athleticism, but it was clear that neither had earned the trust of the coaching staff as true freshmen. They have the potential to be good depth this season and starters in the future, but they need a strong offseason to get this unit to a place where we can be comfortable.
Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith loses Trevor Williams, but Grant Haley and John Reid were playing almost starter-level time in 2015 and look primed to hold down the starting positions. Reid saw a steady uptick in playing time over the season, and Haley was seeing as many snaps as Williams in the games he was not injured for. Add in redshirt freshman Garrett Taylor, a healthy Christian Campbell, and third-team depth in the form of special teamer Amani Oruwariye, and this unit is set up nicely for the foreseeable future.
The loss of sixth-round pick Jordan Lucas leaves this unit thin on playing time from 2015. Marcus Allen is one of the starters for now, but if he continues his struggles from his sophomore campaign, nothing is guaranteed. Malik Golden and Troy Apke are battling for the other starting job for the moment, though running back Nick Scott is a wild card as he transitions to the defensive side of the ball. Three redshirt freshmen will also get looks, as Ayron Monroe, Jarvis Miller, and John Petrishen will all be dressing this season.
As you can imagine, the defensive line is the place where the most production was lost. But a healthy linebacker unit and someone stepping up at safety will leave the defense in a decent place if the young talent develops on the defensive line as it has in the past.