One of the biggest question marks for Penn State as the 2021 season turned into the 2022 was: “How will they replace Arnold Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa?” While there were some candidates on the roster — we’ll get to those in a second — it seemed obvious that Penn State was going to try to land a starting-caliber defensive end from the transfer portal. James Franklin said as much just last week.
James Franklin last Wednesday: “We got to find somebody that can come in and help us with edge pressure and affecting the quarterback."— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) April 12, 2022
Now, help is on the way: https://t.co/fWeTy54jiv
As Audrey stated in her tweet, help is on the way in the super talented rising sophomore Demeioun Robinson. But where exactly does he fit into the picture for Penn State in 2022? Let’s take a closer look.
THE ROBINSON FILE
First and foremost, it’s probably important to point out that Robinson didn’t actually play defensive end for the Terrapins last season. Instead, he was at linebacker — all 6-foot-4, 250 pounds of him. Maryland did use him a bit at defensive end/standup rush end, but by in large, he was a linebacker as a true freshman. That is both a good thing and bad thing, depending upon your perspective.
- Good: He is just that level of a freak athlete where he has the agility, fluidity, and instincts to play linebacker despite being the size he is.
- Bad: He’ll more than likely transition to defensive end at Penn State, and with that being the case, you would have liked for him to have gotten more experience playing the position he will moving forward.
The “bad” part is important because the expectation for Penn State should be that Robinson helps immediately. Yes, he is only a rising sophomore so this isn’t a one-and-done situation, but with the Nittany Lions’ question marks at defensive end, they aren’t bringing in Robinson to hold his hand. He’ll be thrown into the fire — which is a tough ask for a kid who didn’t play defensive end last year and now will have gone the spring without practicing.
The “good” part is important though because defensive end isn’t the most difficult position to make an impact. Certainly there are important techniques and intricacies to learn, but if you have the size, instincts, and athleticism, that is more than half the battle. Robinson certainly has that.
Part of the Robinson equation is what else is at defensive end. While there are questions at every level, there is probably one thing you can be sure of: Adisa Isaac, provided he’s healthy, will start. The “provided healthy” part is an important one, as Isaac missed last season with what has been rumored to be an achilles injury. But as long as Isaac doesn’t suffer any setbacks, the former Top 100 recruit will have a starting spot.
It’s the spot next to Isaac that is the question, and there have been a number of candidates. The most obvious one is Nick Tarburton, who himself has dealt with his fair share of injuries. He was able to stay healthy last season, putting up 1 sack and 4.5 TFLs. Obviously, not gaudy numbers, but that isn’t necessarily Tarburton’s game. He’s largely a run defender and one that will set the edge and eat up blockers. An important role? For sure. But from your starting defensive end, you’d like to see a little game wrecking ability.
There’s also Smith Vilbert and Zuriah Fisher, who each got their feet wet with playing time last season. Vilbert in particular had a nice showing in the bowl game against Arkansas, finishing the game with 3 sacks — his total for the season. For both it’ll be about consistency, which is partly why Penn State was looking for a defensive end in the first place.
Lastly, there’s also incoming true freshman Dani Dennis-Sutton. Like Robinson, he is expected to be thrown into the fire early — with James Franklin saying as much. But man, it’s just really difficult to expect a non-early enrolling true freshman to be ready to really play from Day 1. Dennis-Sutton might be that special, but that remains to be seen.
So Robinson as a starter? Maybe. The depth chart lines up decently well. But even if Robinson isn’t ready for a full-time gig in 2022, he now certainly offers something the Nittany Lions were missing at defensive end: a pure speed rusher. That will have value.