Nyeem Wartman-White Talks Season Expectations, Favorite Pair Of Crocs
Nyeem Wartman-White is battle-tested. The graduate senior from the City of Brotherly Love has gone through two season-ending injuries, but he’s back in the starting lineup. He’s part of a cerebral three-man wrecking crew at linebacker for the Nittany Lions, which includes fellow veterans Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda.
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Wartman-White was listed as Penn State’s starting Will (weakside) linebacker on Tuesday’s depth chart, the position he played in 2014 before moving inside as the would-be heir to “Linebacker U” great Mike Hull. Of course, Cabinda would be the one to call the shots during a breakout sophomore season that saw him lead the defense with 100 total tackles, but with Wartman-White back in the fold, defensive coordinator Brent Pry will have two trusted voices out there.
“A lot of people put emphasis on outside-inside,” Wartman-White said following Wednesday’s practice. “Regardless, when you’re a linebacker, you’ve gotta know your assignments — so I feel like, I’ve played it before, I feel comfortable with it. Whatever it takes to improve the team.
“It’s like having two middle linebackers out there. We’re both gonna be making the calls,” Wartman-White said. “You’ll hear both of us at the same time saying the same stuff to each other and everyone else. It’s very comfortable out there when you know someone is talking just as much as you, because everyone has a brain fart.”
Wartman-White and Bell inherited the role of Penn State’s sage defensive leaders from Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel, and Austin Johnson, each of whom will be playing on Sundays this fall. The new generation will be counted on to help young Nittany Lion linebackers Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper continue their rapid development as true sophomores, because they’ll need big contributions from the two-deep, which also counts two-time captain Von Walker among it.
Though Penn State’s top-down depth is as good as it’s been in at least five years, Pry doesn’t exactly have a ton of returning experience to work with at his personal position group — It’s the thinnest spot on the team. But you would be mistaken if you didn’t think this bunch can accomplish some big things in 2016, and Wartman-White will man the rudder to keep things on track. Pry even said he’d “go to battle against anyone in the country with those three linebackers” at Media Day a few weeks ago. Wartman-White, Bell, and Cabinda own a combined 57 starts between them, so miscommunication on the top line won’t be an issue.
But not everything is serious when Wartman-White is around reporters. In fact, he told a great story about how he came to own his favorite pair of shoes — some warn-out black Crocs. “These Crocs are probably three-years-old, they’re not mine,” Wartman-White said with a chuckle. “Jordan Lucas was my roommate and he got tired of them and left them in my room. After a few months, he never came back for them and I just took them. Now, I wear them all the time, I even wear them to class. I love these things.”
Wartman-White got back to business by highlighting his unit’s approach to containing Kent State’s revolving trio of quarterbacks. “They’re all, basically three of them, different quarterbacks,” Wartman-White said. “One guy is like Trace [McSorley], so we got a lot of that during camp. Another guy is your traditional quarterback — he’s balanced, he could run if he wants to run — and another guy that’s a pocket [passer].”
The Nittany Lions could use a lot of two-linebacker formations Saturday and throughout the season given their limited numbers, which would help keep everyone fresh and allow their strong secondary to play more Nickel or “STAR” (hybrid linebacker/safety) sets against spread offenses.
“Last season, you could see we kind of struggled with running quarterbacks,” Wartman-White said. “But I think this year, having Trace and Tommy [Stevens], guys who are really elusive; that’s something where when you hear running quarterback, you’re not like, ‘Alright, let’s focus in,’ it’s more like, ‘Okay, let’s get the job done.’ We’re used to guys who scramble now.”
Wartman-White will run out of the tunnel for his final season opener against the Golden Flashes at 3:30 p.m., but Saturday also marks his first home-game action since Michigan State on Nov. 29, 2014. That’s 643 days between Beaver Stadium appearances for No. 5. So make no mistake — He’ll be ready when the whistle blows.
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