A Look At Penn State’s Post Blue-White Defensive Depth Chart
With the Blue-White game in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking forward to next season’s roster.
Penn State’s defense lost a number of key players from last year’s roster, including Amani Oruwariye, Nick Scott, and Shareef Miller. However, the unit returns a number of talent players, including freshman All-American Micah Parsons at linebacker and star defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.
We already took a look at Penn State’s offense, so now let’s examine how Brent Pry’s defensive unit is taking shape.
- Yetur Gross-Matos, junior; Shaka Toney, redshirt junior
- Daniel Joseph, redshirt junior
- Jayson Oweh, redshirt freshman
- Shane Simmons, redshirt junior
Defensive line coach Sean Spencer has plenty of talented Wild Dogs to work with next season even with Shareef Miller’s departure for the NFL.
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 in 2018. He earned first team All-Big Ten honors from the media after starring on the defensive line.
Shaka Toney was a key rotational player last season and should get an opportunity at the opposite defensive end position. Further down the roster, Penn State still has plenty of quality options in Shane Simmons, Daniel Joseph, and Jayson Oweh. Next season will provide the trio with the opportunity to step into a bigger role on the defensive line.
- Robert Windsor, redshirt senior; Antonio Shelton, redshirt junior
- PJ Mustipher, sophomore
- Damion Barber, redshirt sophomore
- Ellison Jordan, redshirt junior
Penn State will bring starter Robert Windsor back from last year’s defensive line. He’s an obvious choice to retain his spot in the interior of the line after posting 6.5 sacks and 38 tackles in 2018.
Alongside Windsor could be either Antonio Shelton or PJ Mustipher. Both played rotational roles last season and each recorded 14 total tackles. The two will likely compete for snaps throughout the season, but I’ll slot Shelton into the starting role for now based on experience.
Further down, both Damion Barber and Ellison Jordan will provide Spencer with plenty of depth along the interior of his line.
- Cam Brown, senior; Jan Johnson, redshirt senior; Micah Parsons, sophomore
- Ellis Brooks, redshirt sophomore
- Jesse Luketa, redshirt freshman
- Lance Dixon, freshman
- Brandon Smith, freshman
The Nittany Lions will return almost their entire group of linebackers from last season. Micah Parsons led the team in tackles while splitting time with Koa Farmer, and the duo of Cam Brown and Jan Johnson were full-time starters.
If anybody on this year’s Nittany Lions is poised to break out and become a superstar, it’s Parsons. The sophomore is a freak of nature athletically with the speed of a safety and the strength of an edge rusher. Brown and Johnson will provide a steady veteran presence to the linebacker room along with plenty of experience on the field.
Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa will provide solid depth for the unit. Brooks especially was effective in limited snaps last season with 30 tackles. Luketa had a strong spring, and the former four-star recruit has the talent to translate that into a role in the regular season.
Pry’s linebacker unit also boasts two five-star freshmen in Lance Dixon and Brandon Smith. Time will tell if either player will see the field much, considering the current depth at the position.
- 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 after sitting out the season prior due to a torn ACL, but he 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 year, so he should slide into the second starting spot naturally after a great 2018 season. The junior is the tallest cornerback on the roster at 6’0″, so he’ll likely be asked to handle the opposition’s red zone threats next season.
The Nittany Lions lack experience further down the cornerback depth chart. Donovan Johnson, DJ Brown, and Trent Gordon haven’t seen the field much so far in their college careers.
- Garrett Taylor, redshirt senior; Jonathan Sutherland, redshirt sophomore
- Lamont Wade, junior
- 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.
Lamont Wade’s decision to pull his name out of the NCAA’s transfer portal has significantly boosted Penn State’s depth at safety. He and Jonathan Sutherland will compete for the second starting safety spot left vacant by Nick Scott’s graduation. Sutherland might have the upper hand in the battle after starting in the Blue-White game, but Wade could surely emerge and take over the lion’s share of snaps.
With Nick Scott’s graduation and Ayron Monroe’s transfer, the team is slightly short of options at the position. Junior college transfer Jaquan Brisker will provide some depth at the position, as will incoming recruit Tyler Rudolph.
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About the Author
At 91 overall, Saquon Barkley is the highest-rated former Nittany Lion in this year’s edition of the popular “Madden NFL” video game.
Parsons and Gross-Matos were named to the Bednarik Award’s watch list, and Hamler earned a spot on the Maxwell Award preseason list.
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