The law firm of Cothren and Cothran have graduated, leaving us with two players who have seen more than 100 live-action snaps of collegiate football. The Blue-White game will give a cadre of inexperienced players a chance to alleviate our concerns about the depth of Penn State’s interior line.
This is the easy part. There’s almost no doubt that Kevin Givens (RS JR) and Robert Windsor (RS JR) will be the starting defensive tackles when the season kicks off against Appalachian State in September. While undersized, Givens is the most experienced of the returning DTs, and his strength and quickness off the line allow him to penetrate the line of scrimmage to make tackles in the backfield. He’ll be joined by Robert Windsor whose size and footwork should allow him to clog up the interior of the defense. Despite losing the two starters from 2017, Penn State won’t lose much in terms of talent, and both Givens and Windsor have some untapped potential.
Spring practice has provided some glimpses of an unproven cast of supporting actors for Penn State’s defensive tackle two-deep. Still, it would help if one or two of these players can deliver a strong performance on Saturday to raise the confidence in the depth of the interior line. As Andrew Callahan at 247Sports noted, while the unknown at MLB and Safety is concerning, the starting DTs have only played 45% of snaps for Penn State the past two years. Meaning the depth behind Givens and Windsor will be crucial due to the amount Sean Spencer rotates his personnel.
Fred Hansard (RS FR), a four-star recruit in the 2017 class, has recently stepped forward as the most promising of the reserves. His combination of size and strength may be the best of the bunch (including the starters), but he still needs to adjust to the game after taking a redshirt year as a freshman. He should prove valuable stopping the run, but it will take some time before he’s a complete player.
Antonio Shelton (RS SO) has the most experience of the reserves, and that should earn him playing time over players like Damion Barber (RS FR) and Corey Bolds (RS FR). While Barber and Bolds may have higher ceilings, Shelton knows the position and will likely be above the two freshman to start the season.
Ellison Jordan (RS SO) would have been a prime candidate to backup Givens and Windsor, but he has been sidelined all spring with a broken kneecap. If he returns early enough in the summer, he has a good chance to compete with Hansard to be the first-off-the-bench for Spencer.
The depth behind Givens and Windsor at defensive tackle is concerning, and it will be even more concerning if none of the reserves are able to distinguish themselves from the pack on Saturday. If Fred Hansard, Antonio Shelton, Corey Bolds or Damion Barber are unable to make an impact, prepare for several months of articles bemoaning Penn State’s inability to stop the run during key losses last year - and why that trend will continue. If even just one of them can make a few big plays, it should relieve some stress about the interior line.
Heading into summer Penn State will add 2018 recruits PJ Mustipher and Aeneas Hawkins at DT, but we’ll have more on their potential impact as the season nears.