What a difference. Penn State began the 2018 season with nothing but question marks in the middle of its defense. Our Lions needed to replace its top three defensive tackles (Parker Cothren, Curtis Cothran, and Tyrell Chavis), as well as its MLB (Cabinda) and the best Hero of the past decade, Chico Hendrix. That’s a lot of new faces up the gut.
Predictably, the defense was a bit shaky at the start. But by the end of the season, PSU’s starting front four had piled up 53.5 tackles for loss - more than any other PSU front four from the past decade.
Key to that push was #54, Robert Windsor. Bob from Fond du Lac, WI settled into his starting role in the first few weeks, got the hang of things, and then he exploded. Not literally, but figuratively. He first wrecked house against Iowa, completely reversing his defense’s trend from the prior week against Indiana. And then, facing his home state Badgers and their Sports Illustrated coverboy linemen, Bob annihilated them, to the tune of 6 stops, 2 sacks, and a Big Ten DPOW honor. By season’s end, the kid from Fond du Lac - who was under-recruited by the local B1G West squads, and was a late addition to the bottom of Head Bald Coach Jimmy Franks’ 2015 recruiting class, playing in a conference stuffed with big name “talent” - that kid made the Associated Press’ 2nd team All Conference squad. His 11.5 TFLs was the best of any (primarily) 1-technique defensive tackle in the last decade of PSU defenses, with the exception of Austin Johnson’s 2015 superhero amazeballs display (15).
Brent Pry has a much better sense for what the middle of his 2019 defense can give him. What a difference from last season.
The First Line
Physically, PJ Mustipher has everything you’re looking for in a DT. He’s large. He’s skrong like bull. He understands leverage (thanks, wrestling). He’s nimble, within context. And last year he took a ton of true freshmen snaps, learning the ropes. Assuming he has his head screwed on right - and there’s no reason to think otherwise - expect big things this season from PJ.
The Second Line
Fred Hansard was another of the young pups thrown into the early season fire last year out of necessity. He survived, and was just starting to get things figured out when his knee got blow’d up. Once Fred knocks the rust off, he’ll make a great impersonation of a tree stump in the middle of our defense.
If you’re looking for a fun kid to watch, you could do a lot worse than to set your eyes on #55 Antonio Shelton. Shelton has only one effort setting on his dial - 11. He’s the kind of kid you have to kill to get him to stop chasing the bootball. He also flashes some quickness off the snap. But if that’s not enough to get you to like him, then this will: he hates Ohio State. Hates their guts and livers, and he plays like it. Kid is downright lovable.
More Wild Dogs
You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
The 2013 PSU defense featured exactly one upperclassman defensive tackle, DaQuan Jones. And DaQuan played 2013 with only one arm the last seven weeks of the season, thanks to an unreported shoulder injury. His starting linemate, at NT, was converted DE Kyle Baublitz.
Their immediate backups were two freshmen. One was Austin Johnson, who was not yet that Austin Johnson, but rather was 0-game snaps Austin Johnson. The other backup was soon to become offensive guard/center Brian Gaia.
The only other defensive tackle on the entire roster - thee only one - was (yet another) converted defensive end and former walk on Tyrone Smith, who wore #88.
By contrast, and despite a litany of woulda-coulda-shoulda DT recruiting tales the last half decade, 2019 PSU’s 5th defensive tackle will not only be an actual defensive tackle, but will likely be a 4-starz type of croot. With prior game experience. The 6th DT - which didn’t exist in 2013 - might also be that kind of player.
What a freaking difference.
Get excited. The DTs (and really, the entire DL) is gon’ be good.