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Penn State Football’s Defensive Line Expected To Be As Good As Ever In 2019

While so much uncertainty surrounds James Franklin’s squad entering the 2019 season, one thing remains crystal clear: Penn State’s defensive line has the potential to be one of the best and scariest units in all of college football.

Last season, Penn State’s defense led the country in sacks. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy defensive line coach Sean Spencer. In fact, he continues to set the bar high for his players and expects nothing but improvement for the upcoming season.

The result? He believes this year’s Wild Dawgs are “right on par to be even better than we were last year.”

Although the Nittany Lions will be without key pieces Shareef Miller and Kevin Givens, they certainly have enough talent and depth to fill this void and take the defense to new heights.

Leading the pack of Spencer’s ‘wild dogs’ for the upcoming season is Yetur Gross-Matos, who just so happens to be ranked sixth on Mel Kiper’s first 2020 NFL Draft board. The 6’5″, 262-pound defensive end had a breakout sophomore season with the Nittany Lions, leading the team with eight sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. Combined with his speed and athleticism, Gross-Matos has asserted himself as a player to be feared by opponents. He’ll play a major role in the success of the defensive line during the 2019 season.

But Gross-Matos isn’t the only Nittany Lion who can contribute. In fact, the depth of the defensive line is one of the things that makes this group so special. Veteran players like Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons have the talent and experience necessary to create havoc for opposing offenses in the Big Ten.

Toney finished last season with five sacks, four of which came against Indiana. This breakout performance did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.

“He’s always had tremendous rush ability, one of the best rushers in the country,” said Spencer.

Despite coming off the bench for the Nittany Lions, Toney played a lot of quality minutes in 2018, so a starting role could very well be on the horizon for his senior year in Happy Valley.

Simmons, a former four-star recruit who fielded offers from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, could also play a key role in running the defense for Penn State. The 6’3″, 250-pound defensive end is a big-time athlete with three years of experience, who many expect to come into his own this season and form a lethal dual-threat alongside Gross-Matos.

Miller’s departure to the NFL will also open the door for younger players to step up, including redshirt freshman and “athletic freak” Jayson Oweh and true freshman Adisa Isaac. These young talents have the size, speed, and ability to ensure that Penn State’s defensive line is in good hands for years to come.

“It’s a rare occasion that you lose a guy like Shareef early, you know, and you’re able to still feel really good about your depth,” said defensive coordinator Brent Pry. “I think we got a great group…they all bring in some value and I think they compliment each other very well.”

Expect Penn State’s defensive line to show out in 2019. With so much talent and potential, opposing offenses are going to feel the pressure and intensity coming for them each time the ball is snapped.

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About the Author

Rory Pelella

Rory is a senior from Binghamton, New York majoring in Spanish and journalism. She's been bleeding blue and white ever since her older siblings decided to create a family dynasty in Happy Valley in 2006. So, as you can imagine, she loves absolutely everything Penn State (especially the Cheese Shoppe downtown). She's also a die-hard Yankees, Knicks, and Giants fan (it's brutal), and would do anything for a good old fashioned New York slice. Feel free to email her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @rorypelella.

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