The Penn State offense is getting plenty of attention this summer thanks to the Heisman hype surrounding Saquon Barkley as well as the return of Trace McSorley and Mike Gesicki after breakout seasons. However, the defense will be just as important to the Nittany Lions' success, and the team's top defensive player might be middle linebacker Jason Cabinda.
How He Got Here
The senior from Central Jersey made a name for himself by earning early playing time as a freshman in 2014, but he really broke out as a sophomore when he led Penn State in tackling with 100. With double-digit stops against Army, Maryland, and Michigan State, Cabinda earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention and set the stage for an epic 2016 campaign.
That 2016 season only included nine games for Cabinda, as he sat out Week 2 through Week 6 with an injury. During the stretch, the Penn State run defense was shredded by Pittsburgh and Michigan while the Lions suffered two of that year's three losses.
Upon returning to action in a pivotal matchup against Ohio State, Cabinda made up for lost time by recording 13 tackles and the game-clinching sack. The effort gave Penn State a signature win, shook the notion that James Franklin couldn't win the big game, and earned Cabinda a coveted helmet sticker from ESPN's College Football Final.
Cabinda might not have sacked the quarterback again for the rest of the season, but he wasn't done making key stops. Just watch how he stopped Iowa on a quarterback sneak to set the tone for Penn State's blowout victory.
Despite missing those five games, Cabinda still finished third on the team with 81 tackles in 2016.
What to Expect in 2017
The injuries to Cabinda and Brandon Bell last season allowed for Manny Bowen and Brandon Smith to gain valuable experience, and both players will return to help Cabinda lead a Penn State defense that expects to be tougher against the run than it was in 2016. If Cabinda stays healthy in 2017, he should challenge safety Marcus Allen for the team lead in tackles in addition to providing support in pass defense.
Due to the departures of top pass rushers Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, fans will look to Cabinda to pressure the quarterback a little more often in his senior year. When he’s not dropping back into coverage or running down tailbacks, Cabinda’s power makes him a good candidate to blitz up the middle and force the opposing offense into mistakes.
With a full season’s worth of starts in 2017, Cabinda should be able to surpass his career high of 100 tackles and intercept another pass for the first time since 2015.