Linebacking Unit Ready To Replace Hodges and Mauti
Replacing two starters on any football team would be difficult. Make them two senior captains who were two of the best players in the country and it becomes even tougher. Make it two guys that play the same position, and it’s almost impossible.
That is the current state of Penn State’s linebacking corps after the Nittany Lions lost Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti to graduation and the Minnesota Vikings in April’s NFL Draft. Replacing their combined 204 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions and 3.5 sacks will of course be difficult, but replacing the leadership those two brought to the team may be even harder.
Luckily for the Nittany Lions, the current crop of linebackers is ready to try to fill the void left behind by the two decorated seniors.
The unit is led by senior Glenn Carson, who was no slouch last year, as he racked up 85 tackles on his own. However, while Mauti and Hodges were known to fire up their teammates with their dynamic personalities, Carson would rather let his play do the talking.
“Mostly leading by example, that’s the most important thing,” Carson said. “And just showing them on film how things are supposed to be done, and off film just exactly what they should be doing. Trying to get these guys’ noses in their playbooks and try to learn from their mistakes, try not to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.”
“I’m not a huge rah rah guy,” Carson continued. “I’m more of a lead by example guy, so I’m just kinda doing my thing and showing them what needs to be done.”
Of course, one player can’t do it alone. While Carson is more than capable of stepping up and filling the massive void left by one guy, he will certainly need some help.
One player who will be called upon to step up is redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman. Wartman took a medical redshirt last season after suffering a knee injury in Week 2.
While he does not yet have much collegiate experience on his resume, his pedigree is impressive, coming to Happy Valley from Valley View High School in Archbald, PA, where he was a three star linebacker and Rivals‘ 13th best player in the state.
Last season, Wartman observed Hodges and Mauti, something he says taught him a lot.
“I was behind Mauti and Carson, obviously,” Wartman said. “I was told I’m gonna be playing the outside once I got hurt. So I just had the time to sit down and see how three veterans, three guys who have been in the game for a while, seeing the greats [like] NaVorro Bowman], seeing the Sean Lees, all the good guys there and how they prepare and just watching them, just seeing how they prepare, how they watch film, how they get ready for the game plan.”
As for replacing Hodges and Mauti, Wartman doesn’t like to use that term because “every team loses players.” In his mind, the unit will be just fine.
“We have guys who work hard,” Wartman said, “I think we’re fine without G and Mauti. Obviously Hull played a lot last year and we got [Ben] Kline who played a lot last year, so we got guys who have been on the field quite a bit. We know we gotta work that much more because we know it’s us against the world. It’s One Team, and we’re just trying to take it to the next level.”
The biggest concern with the Nittany Lions linebacking corps this year, according to Bill O’Brien, is their depth. Even linebacker coach Ron Vanderlinden admits the unit’s depth isn’t ideal.
“I think we have four talented players that we feel good that can go in and compete at a high level,” Vanderlinden said, “After that we’re developing players. So it’s a work in progress.”
However, there is one guy that doesn’t see these issues: Wartman.
“I don’t think we have any issues with depth. I think we’re a talented group,” he said. “Obviously, we got Carson, obviously we got Hull, two tough guys, Hull is basically going to be a starter this year. And then we got Kline, who played a lot last year, and then we got Wooten. No one knows about Gary Wooten, but he’s a tough guy, he’s ready to lay wood.”
“You got a freshman, Brandon Bell, who’s looking good. We’ve got Charles Idemudia and a couple of walk-ons who are looking pretty good, so I think if anything happens, the next guy is ready to step up.”