Curtis Jacobs, Tyler Elsdon, Jonathan Sutherland
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: that starting trio at LB does not give me a ton of warm and fuzzies. The only real star power is Curtis Jacobs, who is certainly growing into his role. But both Ellis Brooks on the inside and Brandon Smith on the outside had the athleticism and recruiting star power to at least make you feel comfortable that they could step in and capably do their jobs. Elsdon and Sutherland? Ehhh.
Elsdon will be tasked with plugging holes in the middle of the defense, and most likely will be calling the plays. So long as he knows his gap responsibility, and is intelligent enough to grasp what new DC Manny Diaz is calling, I’m not overly concerned with the MIKE position. But SAM definitely has me a bit worried.
Then again, Brandon Smith was a surefire 5-star can’t miss prospect, and never learned to actually tackle, so who knows. If nothing else, though, I always had faith for Smith to get to the ball, whether he was in the correct position to begin with or not. Sutherland? I’m not so sure.
Perhaps Ready To Step Up
Charlie Katshir, Jamari Buddin, Kobe King
Given the lukewarm feelings I’m getting on the starting three, I would be shocked if the backups don’t get some serious run. Katshir has battled injuries, but was playing solid football in 2021. Buddin on the inside is intriguing, as the redshirt freshman has good athleticism; if he can get the defensive playcalling figured out, he may push for a starting role. I’m perhaps most interested in King at SAM - he’s got good size at 6-foot-1, 242-lbs, and his speed is solid as well. If Sutherland struggles, King may find himself playing more and more meaningful snaps.
We Shall See
Abdul Carter, Keon Wylie
I wish this list were longer, but after the backups, there really isn’t much on the Penn State roster. Carter is the highest rated linebacker in the 2022 recruiting class, and brings 235 lbs on a 6-foot-4 frame. That would actually make him the second heaviest LB in the two-deep, just behind King. Wylie is a touch smaller at 6-foot-2, 210-lbs, but that sizing actually makes him competitive with both Buddin and Sutherland.
Needless to say, the linebacker room faces an uphill climb in 2022. There is a decided lack of starpower, as well as general overall size. Experience is lacking, all things considered, which means it may be anyone’s game. A good showing in the spring/summer by the backups or newcomers could end up shuffling the starters come kickoff at Purdue.