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Rising Stars To Join Micah Parsons In Maintaining ‘Linebacker U’ Standard For Penn State Football

No one is quite sure what the next few months hold for Penn State football or the college football world as a whole. One thing remains certain, though, and it’s the fact that the Nittany Lions continue to earn Penn State the title of “Linebacker U” with a wealth of trustworthy options at the position.

Despite not holding spring ball and not meeting in person for the foreseeable future, the Nittany Lions are still using Zoom to host press conferences for coaches. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry met with the media last week and was (unsurprisingly) quickly asked about his linebackers, specifically Micah Parsons.

Parsons had a banner sophomore campaign last year in which he led the Nittany Lions with 109 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. The standout from Harrisburg finished off his dominant season with an even better showing at the Cotton Bowl, which he finished with 14 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.

Parsons’ season finale only made Nittany Lion fans more excited for what he can do as a junior in 2020. Pry is just as anxious to see how his defensive leader steps up next season.

“I’m pleased with [Micah]’s development to this point. He’s eager, determined, and that never wavers,” Pry said. “He’s one of those guys that you want to have covering the best [running] back or the best tight end. Maximizing what he can do for us each and every snap that he’s on the field is important.”

Pry added that he feels Parsons’ best football is still ahead of him at Penn State. He even hinted at the fact that the former five-star recruit is “very good on the other side of the line of scrimmage.”

While the Nittany Lions can be plenty excited about Parsons’ return, they also must deal with the losses of Jan Johnson and Cam Brown to graduation. Brown and Johnson were both defensive captains in 2019 and were key anchors at the linebacker position for Penn State.

But there are plenty of talented linebackers ready to step in for Penn State during the 2020 season. Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks didn’t start in 2019, but both earned some meaningful snaps in a backup role last season.

Luketa finished with 24 total tackles last season, while Brooks added 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. The latter of the pair burst onto the scene in the team’s week four victory over Maryland. Brooks registered six tackles and earned all of his sacks for the season in the Nittany Lions’ 59-0 drubbing at the home of the Terps.

“We’ve got a bunch of other good linebackers — guys I’m really excited about,” Pry said. “When you lose guys like Jan [Johnson] and Cam [Brown], they’re tough to replace, but I like the guys in the room. Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa are certainly two guys with good experience that will battle it out at one of those spots.”

Aside from Luketa and Brooks, Pry also added Brandon Smith, Lance Dixon, and Charlie Katshir to his short list of players who will battle for snaps at linebacker.

Smith and Dixon were both highly-touted prospects in James Franklin’s recruiting class of 2019. Smith was ranked as the top inside linebacker in the nation, and the five-star prospect finished with 14 total tackles as a freshman. He made his presence felt early as a Nittany Lion with a crunching hit in the final minute of Penn State’s week one demolition of Idaho.

Dixon only appeared in three games in 2019, and he recorded just two tackles — both against Idaho. While he doesn’t have the same experience as Smith, Dixon will still likely offer plenty of depth to Penn State’s already-talented group of linebackers.

Katshir finds himself in a similar situation. He redshirted in 2018 and played in only three games in 2019. The Camp Hill, Pennsylvania native recorded five total tackles along with a forced fumble against Purdue last season.

Despite losing a couple of key leaders, Pry remains confident that his group of young stars will carry on the “Linebacker U” tradition with ease once the Nittany Lions return to the field and in the years to come.

“There’s a lot of depth in the room and a lot of competition,” Pry said. “In my experience, that’s a pretty good ingredient for a good unit. I’m excited about the guys.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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