As the 2018 season looms for the Penn State Nittany Lions Football team, few positions have question marks. As Chris covered in yesterday’s MMQB, it can be argued that kicker, linebacker, and tight end are these positions.
However, as BSD readers so astutely pointed out in the comments sections of yesterday’s MMQB defensive tackle also has it’s questions and concerns entering 2018. But have no fear, gang, because while it may look cloudy now by the end of the season defensive tackle can be a strength for the Nittany Lions.
Concern about defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions this fall is not due to their starters. Redshirt juniors Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor are set to start, and both have seen plenty of game action the previous two seasons.
Givens has proven to be a disruptive force on the inside, while Windsor is a run stuffer playing the 1-technique. Windsor also shed some weight this offseason which should help better condition him to carry a bigger load.
It is the lack of experience behind these two players that raise concern. Other than Ellison Jordan, whose status is unknown due to an offseason knee injury, Antonio Shelton is the only other defensive tackle on the roster with game reps under his belt.
While the defensive tackle waters may look murky now there is reason for optimism. This is not a situation like the offensive lines of 2014 and 2015 when there were question marks and no possible solutions. Penn State has plenty of talent at defensive tackle, it is just a matter of that talent getting experience and creating depth behind the starters. Luckily, the Nittany Lions have one of the best coaches in the country at doing this in Sean Spencer.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure to mention that Coach Chaos is one of the reasons for optimism. During his time in Happy Valley, Spencer has proven to be one of the best DL coaches in the FBS, and he has plenty of good clay to mold this fall.
The aforementioned Shelton received plenty of praise from coaches and teammates alike during the winter/spring. Shelton is arguably the strongest defensive tackle on the roster and ready to take a needed next step this fall. Redshirt freshmen Fred Hansard and Damion Barber (everyone feel free to join me on the Damion Barber Hype Train) have both received rave reviews this offseason and both are ready to contribute this fall.
Hansard projects as a slightly more athletic Windsor, while Barber, like Givens, is a converted defensive end that can wreak havoc on the interior. Once a lack of experience is no longer an issue for Hansard and Barber, they’ll both be ready to give the Nittany Lions plenty of quality reps.
Do not overlook the true freshmen, either. 6’4” 305 true freshman PJ Mustipher is a former top-100 prospect that is expected to contribute this fall. Fellow newcomer Judge Culpepper arrived on campus in May and is already up to nearly 300 pounds. Combine this with an insanely athletic base and Culpepper making a big impact this fall is not out of the equation.
In my opinion, the question for Penn State and defensive tackle this fall is not if it will become a strength, but when. Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, the light will go on for the young Wild Dogs and they’ll begin to cause chaos for Big Ten offensive lines.