There has been plenty of hand-wringing from the Penn State fanbase about the depth of the linebacker position heading into the fall. While Linebacker U. is typically stacked two, three, and even four-deep with talent at the position, the unit is uncharacteristically thin in both depth and experience. While the starting trio of Brandon Bell, Nyeem Wartman-White and Jason Cabinda are expected to be the strength of the defense, there is very little in the way of known commodities behind them. However, the position group has now been bolstered with the addition of redshirt sophomore running back-turned-linebacker Johnathan Thomas.
Thomas entered Penn State as a three-star running back out of Danvers, Mass. who ultimately took a redshirt year in 2014. He saw action as a redshirt freshman in 2015, tallying 42 yards on 11 carries. Thomas complied 28 yards on seven carries against Army with Saquon Barkley and former-Nittany Lion Akeel Lynch out with injuries, but did not receive many carries throughout the remainder of the season.
One thing became abundantly clear when watching Thomas- he is a strong, tough, physical runner who doesn't back down from contact- all traits that will serve him well at his new position. While he possesses the physicality to succeed at the position, he'll need to pack on some weight to his 5-11, 219 lb. frame before the start of the season. With three years of eligibility remaining, the staff may focus him mainly on special teams in 2016 while he works to add a few pounds and learn the position.
Thomas is joined by Nick Scott on the defensive side of the ball, who has spent the offseason transitioning from the running back position to his new home as a defensive back.