(This is the second in a series of position previews for the 2018 Penn State football team heading into the Blue-White game. Check out yesterday’s preview of the Offensive Line here.)
Not often in the history of Penn State football could you say that linebacker is one of program’s biggest weaknesses.
However, that is where the program sits entering Blue-White.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry has had challenges in both of his first two seasons as in control, but this may be his toughest test to date.
The Lions lost two major parts of their linebacker corps in the offseason. Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda graduated and has his sights on the NFL. The other major loss was that of Manny Bowen, a high-upside player who parted ways with the program after several a number off-field incidents.
Brandon Smith, a former walk-on who became a regular backup and even saw some time as a stater also moved on from the program this past off-season after graduating.
All together, Cabinda, Bown, and Smith combined for 26 starts for the Lions last season.
Despite all that, Penn State still enters 2018 with a ton of upside at the position, but will the inexperience be too much to overcome?
Micah Parsons (WILL)- Ellis Brooks (MIKE) - Koa Farmer (SAM)
Heading into the Blue-White game, only one starting linebacker returns. That linebacker is Koa Farmer who, after moving around from position-to-position, finally found a foothold last season as the SAM linebacker.
As the only returning starter, Farmer will have the pressure of being the leader of the group despite having just one season as a starter.
Last season, Farmer had 47 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one pass deflection, and one fumble recovery.
Opposite of Farmer will be one of the youngest, but most exciting players of the linebacker group in freshman Micah Parsons.
Everyone knows Parsons’ story and he ended up a Nittany Lion at the end of his long and winding recruitment.
The staff originally began Parsons at the MIKE position to start the spring but the former five-star has also spent time as the WILL.
Where Parsons is playing come a week from this Saturday will be one of the biggest reasons to watch. Ultimately, Parsons will be best suited to play a hybrid position as an edge rusher, allowing him to use his elite pass rushing skills to get to opposing quarterbacks.
At the MIKE position for now is redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks, a former four-star recruit.
Brooks is a player that the coaching staff has spoken highly of after spending last season on the Lions scout team. An injury to Cam Brown and uncertainty in the linebacking corps could well see Brooks emerge as a starter come fall.
As mentioned above, Brown is currently on the mend. Once he is back to full healthy, he is expected to compete with Parsons and Brooks for one of the starting spots. That being said, he will either have to be out the stud frosh in Parsons to do so or hope Parsons takes over for Brooks in the middle. Either way, Brown will surely see significant playing time in the fall.
Though youthful and inexperienced overall, the rest of the Nittany Lions linebacker group in 2018 does have some upside and could help the position become an area of strength.
Believe it or not, Jake Cooper will be entering his senior year this upcoming season. The former three-star linebacker has had his fair share of playing time over the course of his career but struggled at staying healthy. If Cooper can put a full season together in 2018, he could become a significant part of the Lions defense this season. If Cooper is able to do so, it will be huge for the Lions defensively.
Jarvis Miller, who’s seen a similar career path to Koa Farmer, begins his second year at linebacker in 2018. Last season the Connecticut native saw time in eight games and recorded 10 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and one sack.
Former high-profile recruit Brelin Faison-Walden will battle for playing time this fall as he looks to make his mark on the program. While 2017 classmate Brailyn Franklin remains conspicuously absent from the team whilst dealing with personal issues.
Freshman Jesse Luketa and Nick Taburton, two players that the coaching staff has raved about, appear in line to redshirt though we’ll wait and see where they fall on the staff’s “green, yellow, red” chart for true freshen when the spring ends. Both players figure to be important parts of the Lions plans defensively going forward.
We’ll also get to see walk-on Jan Johnson and converted wide receiver Dae’lun Darien in action as they figure to get extended playing time in the scrimmage.