Pry: ‘I’d Go To Battle Against Anyone In The Country With Those Three Linebackers’
Linebacker U is a sacred moniker around these parts, bestowed upon Penn State’s most iconic position group, but even though the Nittany Lions are somewhat thin on proven depth as camp begins, there are few starting trios across the nation as talented and hungry as Brent Pry’s boys.
Pry, who’s now in charge of the whole defense, remains working with the linebackers in practice. He spoke about the unit’s development at Media Day on Thursday.
“I think those three guys, and I’ve said this before — you have to show me a threesome that brings to the table what they do from an experience, maturity, production, versatility, size, strength [standpoint],” Pry said. “There may be three that are collectively faster, there may be three that are more notable, or more highly recruited, but I’ll tell ya, I’d go to battle against anyone in the country with those three linebackers.”
Penn State entered its season opener at Temple last fall with the same starting three that will take the field against Kent State on Sept. 3, but a lot has changed over the course of the past year since that stunning wake-up call in Lincoln Financial.
Grad senior Nyeem Wartman-White is ready to go after spending last season on the sidelines rehabbing an injured knee he suffered against the Owls, but his return to the field will be eased by the progress his teammates — Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda — made in 2015. Cabinda took over for Wartman-White in the middle, calling the shots as a true sophomore on his way to a team-high 100 tackles. Bell showcased a ferocious ability off the edge, as the Mays Landing, N.J., native finished with 12.5 tackles for loss (5.5 sacks) — good for third on the defense in both categories. His 65 tackles were also a career high in his first season donning No. 11.
“I tell Brandon all the time; he’s probably not gonna be happy I’m talking about it, but Brandon’s not gonna show up on any of our record boards, [yet] he might be our best defensive football player,” Pry said. “His reaction, his instincts — he just gets it. He’s got something you can’t coach.”
Both Bell and Cabinda are considered two of the top players in all of college football, as each found themselves inside the 247Sports Preseason Top247, at No. 192 and No. 244, respectively. Wartman-White has all the tools to join them when the mid-season rankings are released.
“Jason’s an outstanding leader and he’s got great command of the defense. Nyeem’s recovery’s gone really well. I’m anxious to see those guys — Brandon and Jason and Nyeem out there together,” Pry said. “That’s gonna be a really good thing for the Penn State defense.”
True sophomores Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper logged an extensive amount of playing time last fall after being pressed into action in Wartman-White’s absence. Both will be counted on as part of a five-to-seven man rotation that will see plenty of action in multiple spots. Senior Von Walker and perhaps even true freshman Cameron Brown will be counted on to provide depth. Versatility will be the name of the game in 2016.
“Even though, potentially the numbers aren’t there, the versatility allows us to create depth in need. We’ve got some sub-packages that allow us to do that,” Pry said. “Those guys are gonna roll through multiple spots [during] camp. We’re gonna train Manny Bowen some at the Will linebacker; he’s been strictly a Sam to this point. Brandon Bell’s gonna play some at Mike linebacker.
“Brandon’s played Sam, he’s played Will. Jake Cooper, for a young guy, he’s played a lot at the Mike and a lot at the Will over the course of the fall and spring. There’s competition in that room because everybody wants to be [a] starter and everybody wants to be the guy.”