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Way-Too-Early 2017 Penn State Football Depth Chart: Defense

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An early look at who will see the field for Penn State’s defense in 2017.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, Patrick took a shot at projecting the starters on the offense in 2017. Today, we turn our focus to the defense.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Parker Cothren, Curtis Cothran

Reserves: Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor, Tyrell Chavis, Ryan Monk, Ellison Jordan, Antonio Shelton

The most interesting position battle of the offseason could be between Cothran and Givens. Despite Givens massive upside, I’m going with Cothran after his rapid improvement in 2016 to become a complete force in the interior. Givens is a star-in-the-making after a standout redshirt freshman season, and will play a huge part even if he doesn’t get the starting nod. Windsor also turned heads as a redshirt freshman, and could develop into a havoc-wreaking tackle soon. Keep an eye on him if you watch any replays during the offseason. Windsor has great quickness for his size and an excellent instincts- whenever the play ended, he was always close to the ball whenever he checked in. Ryan Monk has continued to earn high praise from the coaching staff and should take on a larger role in 2017. Keep an eye out for Jordan- he was Penn State’s fourth-highest rated recruit in a talented 2016 class, and should be ready to become part of the regular rotation as a redshirt freshman.

Defensive End:

Starters: Torrence Brown, Shareef Miller

Reserves: Shane Simmons, Ryan Buchholz, Colin Castagna, Shaka Toney, Daniel Joseph

Brown and Miller can safely be penciled in as the starting ends after performing well as part of the two-deep. Shane Simmons could push for a starting spot, as the five-star prospect has freakish talent and should make an immediate splash as a redshirt freshman. Buccholz has a tremendous motor and will continue to improve, while Castagna is a raw but gifted physical specimen who could emerge as part of a deep rotation. Toney earned praise for his work on the scout team and could become an asset off the edge if he’s able to bulk up during the offseason. Joseph is a four-star prospect who could immediately make a name for himself as a redshirt freshman.

Linebacker:

Starters: SAM- Manny Bowen MIKE- Jason Cabinda WILL-Cam Brown

Reserves: Brandon Smith, Koa Farmer, Jake Cooper, Jonathan Thomas, Jan Johnson, Brelin Faison-Walden

I seriously considered placing Smith at the starter in the middle, with Cabinda and Bowen flanking him. However, Cabinda has proven to be an outstanding middle linebacker during the past two seasons and I just don’t see the staff moving him at this point. Farmer will compete for a starting job, but it seems more likely that he will be used mainly as a pass-rush specialist if the depth allows. He became a fantastic blitzer and will certainly be used to get after the quarterback on passing downs. Cooper showed promise as a sophomore before an injury derailed his season, but will be ready to play a bigger role and possibly contend for a starting spot as well. Thomas was a punishing running back before being switched to defense, and could see much more time on the field now that he’s in year two at his new position. Faison-Walden is a three-star prospect and an early enrollee. While he could end up at safety, the smart money seems to be on him suiting up at outside linebacker.

Safety

Starter: FREE- Marcus Allen STRONG-Nick Scott

Reserves: Troy Apke, Ayron Monroe, Jarvis Miller, John Petrishen

Penn State may have the nation’s best free safety in Marcus Allen. However, the strong safety position remains a question mark. Scott did not have much time to learn his new position after being moved from running back, but something tells me he’ll be ready to make a big impact after a full year to learn his new position. Apke has excellent speed and is an asset in run support, and will again see plenty of time. Don’t be surprised if at least one cornerback is moved to safety for depth, and possibly to battle it out for the starting strong safety spot.

Cornerback

Starters: John Reid, Grant Haley

Reserves: Christian Campbell, Amani Oruwayie, Garrett Taylor, Zech McPhearson, T.J. Johnson, Lamont Wade

Reid and Haley are firmly locked in as the starters. While Haley became known for his big-play ability, Reid has quietly developed into one of the Big Ten’s best defensive backs. Campbell and Oruwayie have loads of experience and have always played well in relief. Oruwayie was briefly switched to safety but was quickly changed back to cornerback, so it seems unlikely he will be moved again. Taylor has loads of potential and will see more time at corner, if he isn’t moved to safety- he has the skillset to succeed at either position. McPhearson is a four-star prospect coming off a redshirt season and will fight for playing time in his first year of eligibility to prepare for a much bigger role in 2018 when he’ll have the opportunity to jump up the depth chart. Wade is the best cornerback of his class and is already on campus as an early enrollee, so don’t be surprised if he’s ready to contribute as a true freshman.