Coming into the 2016 season, the 1 technique defensive tackle position was a question mark, with stud Austin Johnson leaving for the NFL. Sure, Parker Cothren had been in the rotation before and performed decently, but behind him would be a few JuCo transfers in Tyrell Chavis and Brennon Thrift, plus an unheralded, late-in-the-cycle-offered redshirt freshman Robert Windsor. Windsor certainly had the size, coming in at a legit 6’5 305, but had never played competition anywhere close to a good college offensive line, as even the time he spent on the scout team in 2015 was going up against an offensive line that was not exactly critically acclaimed.
All Windsor did was make a great impression, eventually being named All-Big Ten Freshman Team Honorable Mention and being a part of some of the biggest plays of the season for Penn State. He had a career high four tackles, including a tackle for loss, against one of the best offensive lines in the country in Pitt, and was instrumental in famous field goal block against Ohio State, pushing the pile up front and allowing Marcus Allen to gain enough ground to be able to block the kick. Along with size you cannot teach, he showed a good understanding of leverage and advanced hand-fighting skills, a teaching strength of defensive line coach Sean Spencer. He helped solidify a Penn State run defense that despite missing at least one starting linebacker most, if not every game, was good enough to beat run-heavy teams like Wisconsin and held a potent Ohio State rushing attack to just 168 yards on 40 carries, and that includes a 71 yard touchdown by Curtis Samuel
So why will Robert Windsor be the breakout star for the Nittany Lions this year? Well, first off, it’s important to note it might not show up on the stat sheet for a variety of reasons. First, Penn State employs a very heavy dose of rotation on the defensive line, which obviously limits statistical opportunities. Second, if Windsor does end up being the breakout player, it will be due to the fact that he starts making offenses double team him the way teams had to double team Austin Johnson in the same role during his career. If Windsor can get just a little stronger from last year, all while continuing to develop under Coach Spencer, he could give Penn State 30-35 dominant snaps up front, as conditioning will always be an issue with Windsor, and not due to his own laziness. He showed a great motor last year while fresh, and that motor, coupled with his great size and developing skills, will give a Big Ten that lost a lot of good interior linemen fits.
Overall, I expect the whole defensive tackle position to be the breakout position for Penn State this year, as Curtis Cothran got really good really fast at the end of last year, coupled with the limitless pass rushing talent of Kevin Givens and the consistent effort unit leader Parker Cothren provides. That will give Penn State four different and diverse options at defensive tackle they can feel comfortable putting out against any offensive line in America. Expect Windsor to take the biggest leap forward of the bunch.