This is the fourth 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 Quarterbacks here.)
When we at BSD started to plan out our position previews and decide who was going to preview what groups, I immediately jumped on the defensive end preview.
Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs have an opportunity to not only be one of the best units in the Big Ten this season, but also one of the best in the country.
The Nittany Lions defensive ends are big, fast, physical and plenty deep and that should cause opposing offensive lines nightmares in the season to come.
Heading into the Blue-White game, it appears Shareef Miller will be your starter at the weakside defensive end position with Ryan Buchholz at the strongside defensive end position.
Torrence Brown figures to be a part of that conversation in the fall, but he’s currently still recovering from an ACL injury suffered last season that saw him miss the end of the 2017 season.
Miller, who had fully grown into his 6-foot-5, 256-pound frame, had somewhat of a breakout season in 2017 and was received third-team All-Big Ten honors from the Media. He appeared in all 13 games, starting 12 and recording 37 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Perhaps most impressively, Miller showed that he was a more than capable run defender in addition to his pass rushing prowess.
Buchholz, meanwhile, also came into his own 2017.
As a redshirt sophomore, he appeared in 10 games and started six, making his first career start in the win over Iowa. While Buchholz didn’t record as many counting stats as Miller or Brown, his presence was strongly felt, particularly when defending the run and was evident when he was forced out of the majority of the Ohio State game due to injury.
Brown began the 2017 season as the starting strongside defensive end and appeared on track for a productive season until a knee injury suffered against Georgia State caused him to miss the final 10 games of the season.
Sean Spencer has not been shy about rotating his Wild Dogs in and out of the lineup throughout the game. This allows players to remain fresh all game and also allows guys who aren’t starters to shine.
Last year, a number of rotation players did take that opportunity and run with it and the good news for Spencer and Penn State fans everywhere is that those players are young and back to 2018.
The two players I’m perhaps most excited for on the defensive line in 2018 are true sophomore Yetur Gross-Matos and redshirt sophomore Shane Simmons.
YGM stands at 6-5, 257 and is nothing short of a physical freak. He appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2017 and never once appeared out of place. With his physical tools and Spencer’s ability to develop talent, Penn State fans could be looking at something special with Gross-Matos.
Simmons came into the program in 2016 as a five-star prospect and that talent began to rear its head at the end of the 2017 season. The DeMatha Catholic (Md.) product redshirted in 2016 and in 2017 played in all 13 games. While, at 6-3, 246, Simmons is not the most imposing figure at defensive end, he plays with leverage well and uses his lightning quick hands and feet to keep opposing offensive tackles from getting a hand on him.
Also in the equation in 2018 figures to be lightning rod edge rusher Shaka Toney.
(I’d like to take this moment to apologize to Shaka and family. I was a hater when he was recruited. I didn’t think he’d even be big enough to play defensive end in the B1G and I didn’t see the tools to play linebacker. My bad, y’all.)
Toney, at 6-3, 224, makes Simmons look big, but he may have the best first step of any defensive end in the conference. Add that to good instincts and tireless motor and have a fantastic pass rushing weapon in the mold of former Oklahoma standout Eric Striker.
Redshirt fresman Daniel Joseph should also see time in the rotation at either the strongside or weakside defensive end position, while linebacker Micah Parsons could be used as a edge rusher in obvious passing scenarios.
True freshman Jayson Oweh will more than likely redshirt in order to gain weight and improve his technique.
Tomorrow: Tight Ends