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Three Reasons To Be Concerned About Penn State’s Defense In 2022

Penn State will need to figure out the linebacker situation if it wants the defense to remain strong in 2022.

Ohio State Buckeyes running back TreVeyon Henderson (32) is tackled by Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jesse Luketa (40) during Saturday’s NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on October 30, 2021. Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Penn State got a great boost in the return of a number of players who could have left after the 2021 season. Some of them, like P.J. Mustipher, knew that it was in their best interests to return for one more year. Others, like Ji’ayir Brown, chose to come back for one las go at it. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Nittany Lions defense in 2022, and Jared went over three of his biggest last week. Now, let’s take a look at the other side of that coin, the three reasons that may keep people up at night as the season approaches.

The Manny Diaz Transition Is Rough

Generally speaking, Diaz runs a similar defense to that of departed Brent Pry. That said, they won’t be running the exact same defense in 2022 as they did in 2021. If Manny’s “bigger risk than Pry, bigger rewards than Pry” approach yields more risk than reward, things can go south rather quickly in year one of the new defense.

Transition aside, Diaz has a reputation of being an outstanding defensive coordinator. Only problem is his best seasons are his earliest, with some of the worst defensive performances having come in his time at Texas, then with Miami. Granted, a lot of the underperformance in Miami may be due to him also being the head coach. Maybe going back to only focuses on defense leads to a better performance, because, otherwise, the Lions defense may resemble 2020 more than 2021.

The Gaping Hole At Linebacker Is Evident

Players have surprised us time and time again when given the opportunity. Carl Nassib didn’t make his impact until his senior season, so it’s possible that someone who spent most of his time as a walk-on, or on special teams, rises above and proves a valuable asset in a starting role.

But, on a defense that is trying to maintain a certain level of performance in order to achieve its goals, relying on the possibility of a seldom-used player to play beyond what we’ve seen so far is unrealistic. To date, Penn State has not used the transfer portal to replace the lost depth by the early departures of Brandon Smith, Ellis Brooks, and Jesse Luketa. With only Curtis Jacobs and Kobe King as the only proven commodities at the position, a lot of players will have to surprise.

Young Talent Needs Time

Penn State brought in a great recruiting class for 2022, and several players are already turning heads this offseason. But, as we’ve seen plenty of times in the past, some players can wow the coaches in practice, but struggle on the field.

The Nittany Lions don’t need to rely on every freshman to succeed, and there are a number of players who redshirted last season (or simply didn’t see the field much due to who was in front of them), so it’s not imperative every 2022 recruit be ready to go by September 1st. But, as we saw with the quarterback position last year, things change rather quickly, and your name could be called at any given point. Will the young talent be ready?