James Franklin met with a handful of reporters on Wednesday evening at Disneyland, and announced that Penn State defensive end Smith Vilbert would be available for the Rose Bowl after missing the entire 2022 regular season.
A handful of us made it to Disneyland. Quick note to pass along: DE Smith Vilbert is available for the game, Franklin said. pic.twitter.com/Eap5kSCjJg— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) December 28, 2022
The reason for Vilbert’s absence this year was never indicated by Franklin and the Penn State staff, but given that Vilbert has been practicing with the team the entire season, it wasn’t the case of an injury.
In any case, getting Vilbert back for the Rose Bowl should certainly help with depth, though it’s likely he isn’t involved a whole bunch. Penn State has plenty of depth at defensive end already with Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson, Nick Tarburton, Dani Dennis-Sutton, Amin Vanover, and now Zuriah Fisher back from injury too so I’m not sure Vilbert breaks into what’s already a deep rotation.
I think the more pertinent piece here is that Vilbert being eligible for this game makes it much more likely that he sticks with Penn State for the 2023 season. Personally, I thought Vilbert was going to be one of the names that entered the transfer portal after the Michigan State game. The Penn State depth chart at defensive end mixed with whatever happened this year that caused him to miss the entire season, it just seemed like a tailor-made story for the transfer portal. And maybe that still happens. Maybe Vilbert suits up on January 2, and then decides to transfer somewhere else. But like Hakeem Beamon last year, I think it’s a good sign that Vilbert stuck with Penn State throughout the season and practiced despite knowing he’d be in sweats on Saturday. We’ll see what happens, but I find this to be an encouraging development that he’s seemingly on the other side of it now.
What could the Nittany Lions expect from Vilbert in 2023? Well, I think it’s definitely possible that he reclaims a spot back in the rotation. A former basketball player that transitioned to football later than most, he has terrific length and size at 6-foot-6, 256 pounds, and we were just starting to see the fruits of his development with his three-sack performance against Arkansas in the Outback Bowl. Although *that* level of pass-rushing ability maybe shouldn’t be expected on a game-by-game basis, I like what Vilbert offers as a bigger defensive end behind Chop Robinson (6-foot-3, 239 pounds) and Adisa Isaac (6-foot-4, 243 pounds).