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 2021 season.
The Departures: Antonio Shelton, Judge Culpepper
Eligible for a sixth season due to the extra year of eligibility rule, two-year starter Antonio Shelton elected to play that sixth season at Florida instead of Penn State. Culpepper, a Florida native, transferred to Toledo after appearing in 22 games the previous two seasons. While Shelton is a loss in terms of experience, Culpepper is a player who had been passed up on the depth chart.
The Arrivals: Derrick Tangelo
After failing to sign a defensive tackle in their 2021 recruiting the lone offseason addition to Penn State’s defensive tackle room was Duke transfer Derrick Tangelo. Bringing plenty of quality experience from his tike at Duke, Tangelo is a player the Nittany Lions will rely on heavily this fall.
The Starters: PJ Mustipher, Derrick Tangelo or Hakeem Beamon
Senior PJ Mustipher will be one of the two starters at defensive tackle this fall. The former top 100 prospect has always shown flashes of his talent during his Nittany Lion career but has yet to consistently put it together over a full season. This fall, Penn State needs Mustipher to put it all together from the first snap of the season until the last.
When Tangelo announced his transfer to Penn State he appeared to be a safe bet to start alongside Mustipher. However, Beamon has had a great spring thus far and is pushing Tangelo for this spot. Regardless of who starts opposite Mustipher fans will see plenty of both Tangelo and Beamon this fall. Also, it would not be a surprise to see Beamon bump outside to a five-technique against run heavy teams such as Wisconsin and Iowa the way Kevin Givens used to.
The Backups: Fred Hansard, Dvon Ellies, Coziah Izzard
Fred Hansard has appeared in 26 games the past two seasons, including beginning the 2019 season as a starter. That 2019 season, however, was cut short due to a leg injury. While Hansard’s potential is limited he is a great run stuffer and can occupy blockers at the line of scrimmage.
As a redshirt freshman last fall Dvon Ellies appeared in three games and flashed while on the field. He also played in one game in 2019. Ellies should have a bigger role this fall. Coziah Izzard was close to getting the green light last season and played in one game. The Maryland native is an under-the-radar breakout candidate for the defensive line this fall.
Outside of Mustipher, Tangelo, and to a lesser extent Hansard, this is not an experienced bunch. That said, there is plenty of potential and talented options at defensive tackle for John Scott Jr.
Mustipher has all-conference potential and Beamon can do a little bit of everything along the defensive line, while also providing the Nittany Lions with the interior pass rush they missed last season following the departure of Robert Windsor. Tangelo should provide plenty of quality reps, while Ellies and Izzard are both just scratching the surface of their potential.
The biggest potential issue at defensive tackle this fall could be injuries. If the Nittany Lions experience an injury or two to any of their top three defensive tackles they could be in trouble.