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Penn State’s Defensive Line Eager To Build On New Identity

Penn State football lost fan-favorite defensive line coach Sean Spencer to the New York Giants this past February. While Spencer helped the position group dominate under the “Wild Dogs” moniker, the Nittany Lions are prepared to build on a new identity with coach John Scott Jr.

“I feel like we have to make our own identity,” Jayson Oweh said during his media day press conference Friday. “Spence brought that culture, and that culture’s still here. We still have everything, all the principles he instilled in us. But I feel like we have to make our own identity.”

Now entering his redshirt sophomore season, Oweh is poised to be a force on the defensive line. The unbelievable athlete, who’s gotten plenty of attention for his natural abilities, had five sacks last year and added 21 total tackles.

For Oweh, he feels the team’s goal is clear in 2020.

“[Win] a Big Ten Championship,” the young defensive end said simply when asked what a successful season would look like.

Outside of Oweh’s athleticism off the edge, though, the Nittany Lions get plenty of maturity and talent from redshirt senior Shaka Toney. Now in his fifth season in Happy Valley, Toney already has 15.5 sacks to his name and 84 total tackles. Despite those solid numbers, he feels ready to take his game to the next level.

“[In the offseason] I worked on my weight, refining my body,” Toney said. “Next, change of direction, then after that technique. Those are my three things that I wanted to delve into this year, as far as the offseason went. Especially with [the pandemic] I had time to really focus on things that I can excel at.”

Toney, Oweh, and the rest of the defensive line now get to work under John Scott Jr. Penn State hired the position coach from South Carolina shortly after Spencer’s exit in February.

Scott Jr. has had stops at Arkansas, Texas Tech, and most recently South Carolina. He was also an assistant defensive line coach for the New York Jets in 2016, and played his college ball as a defensive end at Western Carolina.

“We joke about 300, 400-level classes, it’s always 400-level conversations with [Scott Jr.],” Toney said. “It’s always explained crystal-clear. He’ll spend 20 minutes on one play. I love the detail level. He just makes sure that [everything] is done right, and he has expectations. He always tells you, ‘you’re gonna talk, make sure you walk.’

“He came in and he integrated his own stuff, and we’ve been rolling ever since,” Toney added.

Toney went to explain that Scott Jr. is great addition who will help the position group “take the next step” this season. The new coach will certainly have the tools to do so. Along with the veteran Toney and young stud Oweh, the Nittany Lions have talent inside from experienced players like PJ Mustipher, Antonio Shelton, Fred Hansard, and even Nick Tarburton.

The last of that four has struggled with injuries thus far in Happy Valley, but both Oweh and Toney assured that he’s prepared to do some great things.

“That boy is good,” Toney said. “I love Tarburton so much…that’s one of our brothers that had to overcome things here. I think he’s one of the people who always has a positive attitude going through anything. He never was upset. He always was available emotionally if he couldn’t be physically.

“Everyday he’s out there 25 minutes before practice starts and 15-20 minutes after it’s over. He’s very, very hungry to go out there and prove that he belongs here,” Toney added.

Oweh had the same high praise for Tarburton, as both players described him as a fantastic teammate overall. After dealing with injuries, he’ll now be a key piece to Penn State’s depth in a season where it will be extremely important. The Nittany Lions are set to play nine consecutive games this season starting against Indiana on October 24.

In terms of depth, Scott Jr.’s group will also rely on young players such as Judge Culpepper and Adisa Isaac, both of whom have high expectations surrounding them.

No matter who plays a role up front for the Nittany Lions’ defense this fall, there’s plenty of confidence that the group will be ready once the season begins.

“I’m excited for the opener. Who can’t be excited to play football?,” Toney said. “[The defensive line] is doing great. Everyday we’re building on it. It was a tough challenge with coronavirus, not having spring ball, so we’re all just learning how to get better everyday and we’re working on our craft.

“We’re gonna be ready for the opener. But we have a few more steps we need to take before we get there, before we can call ourselves anything but a finished product,” Toney added.

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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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