Jason Cabinda is ready to take the baton as Penn State’s next great linebacker.
The senior captain from Flemington, N.J., has been a mainstay in the lineup since 2014, making his debut against Northwestern on Homecoming. After missing five games early in the year due to injury, Cabinda returned with a massive chip on his shoulder ahead of the Ohio State game last fall.
Watching him and Brandon Bell work together to orchestrate Penn State’s defense over the second half of the season was a sight to behold. But Cabinda and the Nittany Lions can also look back on the 52 points they let up to USC in the Rose Bowl for motivation as the home opener versus Akron on Sept. 2 inches closer.
“It humbles you, no doubt about it,” Cabinda said. “I think for sure we may have underestimated [Sam] Darnold a bit. It just lets you know you have room to improve. Simple as that. We may have won the Big Ten championship and had success last year, but at the end of the day we have room to grow.”
Cabinda, one of 11 three-time lettermen on the roster, has made a name for himself in the pregame speech department. Dealing with the headache of stopping Heisman contenders Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley daily only better prepares him and his teammates for whatever the Big Ten will throw their way in 2017.
“Coach Moorhead does such a good job. His scheme’s very difficult, it’s very sophisticated, and we embrace it,” Cabinda said. “In every practice we’re going against the best offense in the country right now day in and day out.”
The only downside Cabinda sees in Moorhead’s quick-strike mentality? The defense often doesn’t have much time to regroup before being thrust back onto the field.
“We’re always alert because we take a lot of shots downfield. That’s kinda how our offense works. We complete a lot of them,” Cabinda said.
The 6-foot-1, 234-pound Cabinda has shed a little weight during the offseason in anticipation of playing sideline to sideline more often. With athletic linebackers Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer flanking him on the outside, Penn State will boast perhaps the conference’s fastest second level.
Cabinda mentioned freshmen Ellis Brooks and Brelin Faison-Walden as two new linebackers who have shown a lot of maturity in terms of hammering down their installs and promptly learning Pry’s playbook. The hard-hitting veteran also singled out sophomore Cam Brown, calling him a “rangy and explosive” athlete.
“Obviously at 6’5” he covers a lot of ground and makes plays in the pass game,” Cabinda said. “He throws his body around. He’s twitchy blitzing off the edge.”
James Franklin has stressed the importance of cutting the camp workloads of proven players like Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and Marcus Allen, citing the obvious fact that younger guys will gain more from the added snaps.
“We know who Jason Cabinda is, so for him to come out and get 75 reps at practice, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Franklin said. “Let’s keep him sharp and do the things that we need to do for his development and also for our defensive chemistry.”