Editor’s Note: This is the 15th post in a series previewing Penn State football, part of Onward State and StateCollege.com’s countdown of insight and analysis about head coach James Franklin and his team heading into the Blue-White Game on April 12. Read the previous stories here.
With the Blue-White game only two short weeks away, we take a look at each position and evaluate where the players stand going into the game. Penn State’s defensive line is going to look a lot different this upcoming season from a personnel standpoint. There will be some lofty expectations placed on the defense in 2014.
Key Losses: Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (graduation), defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz (graduation/personal decision)
Key Returners: Defensive end Deion Barnes, defensive end C.J. Olaniyan, defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, defensive tackle Austin Johnson
Incoming Players: Redshirt freshman defensive end Garrett Sickels, freshman defensive tackle Tarow Barney, redshirt sophomore defensive end Curtis Cothran, freshman defensive tackle Antoine White
Depth Chart: Returning defensive ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan will start at the end positions, so there is no real competition there. The real question marks will be at the tackle spots, which have been left open by the departures of DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz. Jones graduated and is hoping to be drafted in May’s NFL Draft, and Baublitz decided not to return despite having a fifth year of eligibility remaining.
Those two spots will be up for grabs this spring. Look for Anthony Zettel, who is making the switch inside, to win a spot thanks to his aggressive pass rush and overall experience. The final tackle spot will be pursued by the rest of the bunch, and redshirt sophomores Austin Johnson is the likely heir apparent to Jones. Redshirt freshman Garrett Sickels, a blue-chip recruit coming out of Red Bank Regional, could get into a rotation at defensive end as well. He looks to have a bright future as a Nittany Lion, and it should be exciting to watch him develop.
Player To Watch: Redshirt senior defensive end C.J. Olaniyan. There are plenty of enticing players to watch for on the defensive line, but Olaniyan is riding a tidal wave of momentum after the surprise season he had last year. Expected to play in the shadow of (then) reigning Big-Ten Freshman of the year Deion Barnes, he instead notched 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, and three forced fumbles. He constantly got better and better during a season which saw him break into the spotlight, so watch for Olaniyan to continue his impressive play into 2014.
Prediction: If Deion Barnes can get back to his freshman form, and either Zettel or Johnson can adequately replace the departed Daquan Jones, this unit could be a force to be reckoned with in the Big-Ten in 2014. Expect the sack numbers to increase substantially, thanks to Barnes and Olaniyan. Run support should be a bit more consistent than last season. Jones will be a tough player to replace, as his disruptive style of play caused matchup nightmares for opposing guards. Whoever fills his shoes will be tasked with plugging running lanes, and taking advantage of the one-on-one match-ups resulting from added attention paid to Barnes and Olaniyan. This group is young, but definitely talented. Ex-defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. will be missed, but expect defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and newly-appointed defensive line coach Sean Spencer to do just fine with this group.