Penn State loses only four starters to graduation on the defensive side of the ball, but both Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan’s end spots are newly vacant heading into spring practice.
Let’s take a closer look at the favorites to snag those coveted starting nods, while also breaking down what should be another strong stable of backups. Sean Spencer went with a gameday rotation of about 11 defensive linemen last year, so the younger guys will have ample opportunity to earn some reps over the next 15 practices.
Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz
Brown, a redshirt junior out of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has been a regular in the lineup since 2015, when he burst onto the scene with a vicious sack of Michigan’s Jake Rudock on Senior Day. He appeared in all 27 games the last two seasons and his four career starts are four more than any other returning end. It’s Brown’s time to take the top dog role at the position and run with it.
Buchholz gives the coaching staff a wealth of options due to his enormous frame and positional versatility. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he’s a handful for offensive tackles to contain, but Buchholz has proven he can outsmart guards on the inside as well. He saw time in 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season and was a valuable member of multiple special teams units. Buchholz could take as big a step forward in his development this spring as any defensive player on the roster.
Ready For More
Shareef Miller and Colin Castagna
Miller had one heck of a debut against Kent State, registering a pair of sacks to open his redshirt freshman campaign. Though he wouldn’t get to the quarterback again in 2016, the Philly native finished with a solid 5.5 tackles for loss. Miller has all the tools to be a disruptive pass rusher for the Nittany Lions and should enjoy a nice bump in his workload this spring.
As a walk-on in his third year with the program, Castagna has steadily carved out a role for himself on special teams. The former volleyball player has been a pleasant surprise to this point in his career and could certainly push for more snaps with another strong offseason. James Franklin even referred to Castagna as a “Greek God” once.
The Redshirt Freshmen
Shane Simmons, Daniel Joseph, and Shaka Toney
Simmons is the headliner of the bunch, as the Under Armour All-American was one of the most respected prospects in the 2016 recruiting class. While he undoubtedly had the talent to contribute right away, the fact that Simmons could adjust to the college game slowly is a terrifying prospect for the rest of the Big Ten. He’ll dive into the rotation this spring and summer, but chances are high his role will increase drastically as the season gets underway.
Joseph flew somewhat under the radar as a recruit despite his lofty ranking as the 11th-ranked strong-side defensive end for his cycle. The Brampton, Ontario, native packs plenty of athleticism into his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame, having also excelled at tight end for Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, where he caught 18 touchdowns as a junior and senior. He’ll make sure Penn State fans know who his name in the Blue-White Game.
Though Toney is still rather undersized for an end, checking in at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds on the latest roster, Franklin called him one of the most explosive pass rushers his offensive tackles saw in practice last season. It could be a little while til he makes an impact on the field, but Toney is an exciting player to keep an eye on as he continues to fill out.
During our next spring position battle primer we’ll examine the top candidates to fill Malik Golden’s strong safety spot opposite Marcus Allen.