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A Way-Too-Early Look At Penn State’s 2019 Defense

The 2019 college football season is still more than eight months away. You know what that means — it’s time to see how James Franklin’s roster is beginning to take shape.

We took a look at the offense yesterday, so today, we’ll examine the defense.

Defensive End

  • Yetur Gross-Matos, junior/Shaka Toney, redshirt junior
  • Shane Simmons, redshirt junior
  • Daniel Joseph, redshirt junior
  • Jayson Oweh, redshirt freshman

Despite losing Shareef Miller to the NFL, defensive line coach Sean Spencer has plenty of talented Wild Dogs to work with next season.

Yetur Gross-Matos will return and anchor the defensive end position. Gross-Matos led the Nittany Lions with eight sacks while also racking up 20 tackles-for-loss last season.

Shaka Toney was a key rotational piece last season and should get an opportunity at the opposite defensive end position. Penn State still has plenty of quality options in Shane Simmons, Daniel Joseph, and Jayson Oweh further down the depth chart.

Defensive Tackle

  • Robert Windsor, redshirt senior/Antonio Shelton, redshirt junior
  • PJ Mustipher, sophomore
  • CJ Thorpe, redshirt sophomore
  • Damion Barber, redshirt sophomore

Penn State brings starter Robert Windsor back from last year’s defensive line, and he’s an easy candidate to retain his starting role.

Alongside Windsor could be either Antonio Shelton or PJ Mustipher. Both played rotational roles last season and each recorded 14 total tackles. For now, we’ll give Shelton a leg up due to his advantage in experience.


  • Cam Brown, senior/Jan Johnson, redshirt senior/Micah Parsons, sophomore
  • Ellis Brooks, redshirt sophomore
  • Jesse Luketa, redshirt freshman

The Nittany Lions will return a big chunk of their linebacker corps from last season. They lost Koa Farmer to graduation, but Cam Brown and Jan Johnson were full-time starters for the entire 2018 season.

Penn State will also return Micah Parsons, the team’s leading tackler last season. Parsons started out as a backup, but played more and more as the season progressed. If all goes according to plan, Parsons just might be the standout player on next season’s defense.

Ellis Brooks is also in contention for playing time. Brooks recorded 30 total tackles as a reserve last season.


  • John Reid, redshirt senior/Tariq Castro-Fields, junior
  • Donovan Johnson, redshirt sophomore
  • DJ Brown, redshirt sophomore
  • Trent Gordon, redshirt freshman

The Nittany Lions will return three-year starter John Reid next season. Reid struggled at the beginning of 2018 coming off a lost year due to a torn ACL, but re-established himself as a strong player in the secondary as the season progressed. Tariq Castro-Fields served as the primary backup behind Reid and the NFL-bound Amani Oruwariye last season, so he should slide into the second starting spot.

The Nittany Lions lack experience further down the cornerback depth chart. All three of Donovan Johnson, DJ Brown, and Trent Gordon have received very little playing time so far in their college careers.


  • Garrett Taylor, redshirt senior/Johnathan Sutherland, redshirt sophomore
  • Jaquan Brisker, junior
  • Tyler Rudolph, freshman

The Nittany Lions will return starter Garrett Taylor at safety. Taylor grew tremendously throughout the 2018 season, recording 71 tackles and finishing tied for the team lead with three interceptions in his first year as a regular starter.

A transfer exodus at the safety position has left the position group stretched thin when it comes to depth. Lamont Wade and Ayron Monroe are both in the NCAA’s transfer portal, leaving the team with limited options.

Johnathan Sutherland may be the guy to replace Nick Scott, who just graduated. Sutherland is a physical defensive back, and JuCo transfer Jaquan Brisker might just be the primary backup once the 2019 season begins, but Penn State’s complete lack of depth at the position remains a concern for now.

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About the Author

Matthew Fox

Matt is a Senior from Lansdale Pennsylvania majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He loves sports, and is still patiently waiting for the Philadelphia Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. If you would ever like to reach out to Matt you can email him at [email protected].

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