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5 Players to Watch During Penn State’s Blue-White Game: Defense

Keep an eye on these players on Saturday, as each could develop into a difference-maker for the defense in 2023.

Penn State University vs Ohio State University Set Number: X164221 TK1

Football in Beaver Stadium is back! Penn State will hold its annual Blue-White Game on Saturday, April 15 at 2 p.m. Here’s who to keep an eye on for the defense:

OLB Tony Rojas (#13)

The early enrollee seems to be gaining the most buzz of the spring session. Staff and teammates continually praise his abilities, and it appears he’s looking like someone who is ready to make an impact for the defense right off the bat. Penn State fought off a full-court press from mighty Georgia to land Rojas, so there is already plenty of anticipation of what he will do in a Penn State uniform. We saw Abdul Carter blossom into the next star of Linebacker U. as a true freshman last fall. Might we see Rojas do the same in ‘23?

DE Dani Dennis-Sutton (#33)

Apparently Dennis-Sutton camped out in the weight room all offseason. That combination of immense talent and never-ending ambition could see the true sophomore develop into an absolute beast off the edge. Dennis-Sutton will be joining both returning starter in Adissa Isaac and Chop Robinson, and by taking a big step forward, could form the best defensive end unit in the nation.

S Zakee Wheatley (#6)

It will be no small task to replace the productivity of Tiig Brown at safety this season. Brown was Penn State’s most consistent player in ‘22, giving the defense a standout performance with plenty of game-changing plays each week. Wheatley quickly gained a reputation for creating turnovers and big plays in the secondary. A productive offseason for Wheatley could result in him consistently being a playmaker in the secondary and somehow avoid a dropoff with Brown playing on Sundays in the fall.

DT Jordan van den Berg (#52)

van den Berg may not be a big name on the defense this season, but his recruitment process is intriguing. The South African native was lightly recruited JUCO prospect who received a surpise offer for the Nittany Lions. This staff clearly knows how to identify and develop talent on the defensive front, so they obviously saw something special in van den Berg. He eventually would receive offers from Iowa and Nebraska, but stuck with Penn State. With some question marks surrounding the defensive tackle position, van den Berg could carve out a role and be a key player for the defense this season.

DE Smith Vilbert

Vilbert was on an upward trajectory in ‘21, capping off the season with a program record three sacks in the Outback Bowl during his first career start. However, he was unavailable to suit up last season on Saturdays (although he did remain and practice with the team) in ‘22 with the exception of a brief apperance in the Rose Bowl. Considering the talent at the defensive end position, a strong season by Vilbert could make the unit practically unstoppable - especially in the second half as a deep rotation of explosive ends feast on fatigued offensive lines.