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Brent Pry Highlights Penn State Football’s Defensive Depth, Flexibility

One of the biggest stories ahead of Penn State football’s 2020 season is the loss of Micah Parsons, who is now officially not coming back to Happy Valley.

But for defensive coordinator Brent Pry, Parsons’ departure is hardly on his mind. In fact, he thinks the defense may become stronger in his absence.

“[Parsons] obviously was an important piece, but we’ve got a lot of flexibility in the room,” Pry said. “We still have a ton of competition. With Micah’s departure, it actually opened up and created a little bit more competition…we’ve got a lot of hungry guys looking to make people forget No. 11 somewhat.”

Pry noted other linebackers will certainly step up in Parsons’ absence. The team has lots of flexibility and plenty of pure athletes that can play multiple positions and fill in where needed. He likened losing Parsons to the draft to needing to fill in for an injured star player.

But who, specifically, will make a big impact at linebacker? Jesse Luketa was a big name that Pry brought up, who he referred to as an “animal.” The junior has experience at both mike and will linebacker, so he’ll play a valuable role in filling a Parsons-shaped hole on the defense. Pry also emphasized that Luketa and fellow linebacker Ellis Brooks play and communicate well together.

Sophomore linebacker Brandon Smith is another guy that Pry expects big things from.

“He’s a big part of the plan right now,” Pry said. “There’s not a lot of guys walking around at 6’4″, 245 [pounds] that run like he does. He’s got tremendous length, he’s very physical…he’s raw, but he’s eager and he’s learning every day. We’re super excited about him, he’s a guy whose role is obviously going to increase tenfold.”

The Nittany Lions’ depth goes way beyond just linebacker, too. It’s one of the things Pry highlighted in his general defensive overview and something that’s even more important when the threat of the coronavirus looms over the team.

The Big Ten requires any student-athlete that tests positive to quarantine for 21 days before returning to play. This means that any Nittany Lion that contracts the coronavirus will likely miss three of the nine scheduled games. Penn State is prepared for this should it happen, but it’s certainly still hard to plan for.

“We try and create depth. That’s kind of been my philosophy from the beginning. These guys have to learn two positions, and they do it early,” Pry said. “It’s highlighted and it’s magnified this year with COVID. You don’t know what you’re gonna have going into any given week, so we’ve got to prepare these guys to play multiple spots and fill in when needed.”

Along with Luketa and Smith, Lance Dixon, Charlie Katshir, and five-star recruit true freshman Curtis Jacobs could all fill in at multiple positions. Beyond just coronavirus-related reasons, having depth will keep the whole team fresh and soften the blow of injuries.

Although Pry is excited about the motivated, young group of guys on defense, he knows they need to improve on certain things from last year to compete with the country’s best offenses. Penn State’s secondary is certainly one of those things, as Pry noted that explosive pass plays hurt the Nittany Lions last year.

Safety LaMont Wade will need to make an impact in order for the secondary to improve, and Pry is confident he will.

“LaMont is certainly one of our leaders on defense,” the defensive coordinator said. “The year he had…I think he earned everyone’s respect. He’s explosive, he’s fast, he’s a really good blitzer. He’s a guy who can do a lot of good things for us. Look for a big year from LaMont.”

Wade is one of many defensive stars that Pry is excited to see this thrive year.

The Nittany Lions will visit Indiana on October 24 to showcase their new defensive scheme against the Hoosiers.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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