EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth of our annual position preview series. Be sure to check back over the next couple of weeks as we preview the rest of the positions in the lead-up to the 2020 season.
The Starters: Antonio Shelton, PJ Mustipher
The projected starters for Penn State are about as sound a duo as you could hope for. Antonio Shelton is a returning starter with a bevy of experience as a redshirt senior. He stands 6’2” tall, and weighs in at 315 lbs. Opposite him will be PJ Mustipher, who shot up the depth chart and played nearly as many snaps as a starter. The true junior is perhaps even more imposing than Shelton, at 6’4” and 305 lbs. The starting duo bring an excellent combination of size, skill, and experience that should make them one of the better tandems in the Big Ten.
The Key Reserves: Judge Culpepper, Fred Hansard, Hakeem Beamon
Similar to the starters, the backups are just about what you’d hope for. The main backup for Antonio will be RS JR Fred Hansard, who is an even more massive human being than Shelton, at 6’3” and 318 lbs. Those two will come as close to a nose tackle as Penn State will employ, and you couldn’t ask for more than a solid combination of height and girth.
Culpepper, a RS SO, stands 6’4 and 294 lbs, and will be the primary backup to Mustipher. RS FR Beamon, meanwhile, is third on the depth chart behind Judge, coming in at 6’3” and 288 lbs. While both of them will be playing the 3-tech position and therefore don’t need to be 300+ lbs, it wouldn’t hurt either of them to pack on just a few more ell bees. Regardless, there’s a very consistent ladder at DT, both in terms of experience and bodily development from the starters on down to the third-stringers.
The Departure: Robert Windsor
Big Bobby Dubs was a human wrecking ball. A two-year starter at DT, Windsor used his incessant motor to make up for being just a tad undersized. Over the course of his 2 years as starter, Robert collected a whole slew of All-Big Ten nods from the coaches, media, PFF, and the Associated Press. While he was never a player that had to be constantly double-teamed, when an offensive line would spend too much time looking elsewhere, Windsor would make them pay. Over the course of his tenure at PSU, he collected 120 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, three fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles - which is why he won the Lions Pride Outstanding Senior Player Award for greatest career contribution to Penn State football at the team’s awards banquet. While his replacement may be more imposing physically, it will be hard to replicate Windsor’s drive and determination.
Honorable mention departure for Damion Barber - Barber, a RS JR, was listed as third string behind Antonio Shelton, but instead opted to enter the portal and test the waters elsewhere. With his departure, RS FR Joseph Appiah Darkwa is now third on the depth chart at NT. It definitely would have been nice for depth purposes for Damion to stick around, but given the players in front of him, he may never have seen many meaningful snaps.
The Additions: Cole Brevard, Coziah Izzard, Fatorma Mulbah
To put it plainly, James Franklin knocked DT recruiting out of the park in 2020. Cole Brevard, a 4-star recruit out of Indiana, joins PSU with a college-ready body at 6’3” and 305 lbs. He’ll most certainly redshirt due to the players ahead of him, and like most high school recruits he probably needs to do some fine-tuning of his muscle mass. But in a year or two, Brevard will be tearing it up at NT.
Coziah Izzard, meanwhile, is another 4-star from Maryland, and looks to be a 3-tech all the way. Standing 6’3” and weighing in at 281 lbs, he’s got that rare combination of size and speed that makes an interior defensive lineman a real game changer. The combination of Brevard and Izzard alone would have been an impressive haul for 2020.
Instead, Franklin went out and landed Fatorma Mulbah, a 3-star recruit from Harrisburg (717 represent!). Unlike the other two, Mulbah definitely has some work to do in the weight room, as he weighs in at 270 lbs. However, he has an excellent frame at 6’3”, and thanks to years of solid interior DL recruiting, Fatorma won’t be needed right away. If all goes well, Mulbah will hear his name called with some regularity starting as a RS SO in a few years.
I am as big a fan of Robert Windsor as there is. I remember watching him puke in the Blue-White Game, trying to stop the newfangled Joe Moorhead offense in 2016. I watched as he constantly used his hustle and drive to outperform his recruiting ranking, and the general expectations placed on him. It was fun watching him tear it up for 4 years, and head to the NFL.
All that being said, I believe PJ Mustipher will be an upgrade at the 3-tech position. What Windsor had in merit, Mustipher has in measurables. PJ had a better pedigree out of high school, is more talented, and tips the scales at a higher overall weight, without losing any technique. It was frustrating at times watching the DL get completely stonewalled, letting the opposing QB pick apart the secondary - this was not to say it was only Windsor’s fault, as the entire DL would go quiet at times, and more than once I remember yelling for the ref to call a hold on Robert. Just that for as much heart as Windsor had, you can only do so much when you’re just a tad lighter, and have just a touch less talent than perhaps one would like to see.
Overall, I expect the interior of the DL to be more disruptive than it was in 2019. The two starters are experienced, skilled, and beefy. The backups bring an excellent combination of all of the above, and the incoming recruits ensure that there won’t be any major drop off when the starters need to take a break. 2020 should see the DTs be the best they’ve been since Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel wreaked havoc way back in 2015 - and that’s saying something!
P.S. - I really hope that new defensive line coach John Scott Jr. manages his player rotations just a bit better than Sean Spencer did. Coach Chaos rotated his players a TON, and while I love that idea from the perspective of keeping your players well-rested into the fourth quarter, there were way too many times when both starters were on the sidelines and the opposition marched down the field while the backups flailed about.
Coach Scott, if you’re reading this, please continue to rotate players so we don’t have any fourth quarter collapses. But please, do your best to leave at least one starter on the field at a time, at least until garbage time. It will help my heart in the long run not to see a team like Indiana threatening until the two starters get back on the field and put the kibosh on any sort of comeback attempt. Please and thank you!