Countdown to Blue-White / 17 Days: How Does Zayd Issah’s Situation Impact the 2013 Roster?

Without ever growing, Penn State’s already shaky depth at linebacker heading into the 2013 season appears to be even thinner.

Incoming freshmen recruits Zayd Issah and Brandon Bell were expected to provide reinforcements to a position group that is rather short on bodies, but it now looks like Issah is not coming — at least not this summer.

Last Thursday, PennLive reported that Issah was facing multiple felony charges after knowingly using counterfeit money to pay for food at a Harrisburg area McDonalds on March 9. Penn State has yet to release an official statement on Issah’s status, but Ryan Snyder of Blue-White Illustrated reported Saturday night that the 4-star prospect had his scholarship — at least temporarily — pulled by Bill O’Brien.

Since the specific report is behind a paywall, only this tweet from reporter Nate Bauer is visible.

Following the BWI report, Yahoo Sports! added that one of the conditions of Issah — who has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 9 — to earn his scholarship back would be to spend a year at military school.

A Penn State football spokesperson declined further comment on the matter when asked by Onward State yesterday afternoon.

While nothing is official, it does not appear that Issah will be a member of the Nittany Lions this fall. O’Brien is still far away from deciding which incoming freshmen will be redshirted, but previous comments from the head coach suggest Issah could have played immediately.

“Zayd was a guy we evaluated on tape early on, and we felt right away that this is a guy that can be a Penn State linebacker,” said O’Brien during a National Signing Day press conference back in early February. “That’s saying a lot because we know the history here, the best in the history of college football. We feel really good about Zayd, his ability to come in here and play for us.”

The praise continued as spring practice got underway.

“We think we have a lot of really good players but based on numbers, there are some depth issues, so a guy like Brandon Bell or Zayd Issah, we’ll be looking for those guys to come in here in the summertime and see what they can do, can they help us on defense, most importantly, can they help us on special teams. That will be big.”

Look no further than Nyeem Wartman from last year to see what O’Brien is talking about. The freshman linebacker made an immediate impact in the season opener against Ohio, blocking a punt that led to a Penn State touchdown.

Without Issah’s services, what now?

Health becomes that much more important. Sophomore Ben Kline is already out for the spring following offseason shoulder surgery. Senior Glenn Carson, manning the middle, has proven to be a durable player over his first three years. Junior Mike Hull made several big plays last season but only started one game, normally filling in for Carson during passing situations or spelling Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges when needed. Wartman was given a medical redshirt after suffering an ankle injury in Week 2 at Virginia.

O’Brien is excited to see how the trio gels together, but he also realizes the harsh reality of a group that is not nearly as deep as last year’s unit.

“There’s certainly not a lot of depth there, so it’s going to be imperative for myself to monitor that and make sure that we are not giving those guys too many reps.”

Outside of Gary Wooten, a redshirt freshman yet to see a live collegiate snap, there is not much else on the current roster, which means the aforementioned Bell may be thrown into the fire upon arriving in State College this summer. The prospect from Mays Landing, New Jersey, listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, played both sides of the ball in high school and has good size and solid closing speed.

Issah would not have been a difference maker right away, but his presence alone would have greatly helped. In a perfect world for O’Brien and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, Hull, Carson, and Wartman will all play 12 games and with some help from Kline not miss a beat, but if things go wrong, the Nittany Lions do not have many capable replacements to turn to.

One option that existed a week ago now seems to be gone.

This is the seventeenth in a 33-day series about the Penn State football program leading up to the Blue-White Game on April 20. We’ve put together a team of football writers who will examine a variety of topics and answer key questions about Bill O’Brien’s team. Click here for past installments in the series.

Recent Stories:

Day 22: Five Under the Radar Players to Step Up in 2013

Day 21: Is Glenn Carson Ready to Lead?

Day 20: Team Focused on Football, not Transfers 

Day 19: Is the Change in Defensive Coordinators Reason for Concern?

Day 18: O’Brien Raises Expectations and Intensity in Year Two

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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