Penn State Linebackers Ready To Step Up Following Key Departures
Penn State football’s linebacker corps is going to look a lot different this season following the departures of three starters from last season: Cam Brown, Jan Johnson, and Micah Parsons.
Despite the losses, the Nittany Lions are left with a group of hungry players ready to fill the void left by last year’s starters.
Junior Jesse Luketa is set to take over Parsons’ role as the weak side linebacker (WILL) for Brent Pry’s defense. He’s confident he and the rest of the linebackers will be able to maintain the level of play set by last year’s starters.
“When you have the opportunity for your number to be called, you step up,” Luketa said. “There’s no drop off. The only thing I tell my guys day in and day out when we work is ‘Who’s next? Who’s next?’ It’s as simple as that. We’re going to come ready to play, there’s no question about that.”
Luketa continued, mentioning he’s excited to see who’s going to step up and make their name a “household one.”
Fellow linebacker Brandon Smith expressed confidence that Luketa will be able to fill the tremendous void left by Parsons.
“He knows the MIKE position, the WILL position, and at times he even knows what I have to do at SAM based off whatever play it is,” Smith said. “He’s knowledgeable about the playbook. I have full confidence that he’s going to do what he needs to do on the field and that we can depend on him.”
Smith, a former five-star recruit, is set to take on a bigger role himself. He’s been getting reps at Brown’s position, which is the strong side linebacker (SAM).
The Virginia native acknowledged that they’ll miss Brown, Johnson, and Parsons out there on the field, but thinks the current room is more than capable in getting the job done.
“I definitely feel like we’re going to miss those guys as far as them knowing what they’re doing on the field, them knowing the playbook, and just having a great amount of experience,” Smith said. “But for us, everybody is stepping up. I’m stepping up in Cam’s spot, Jesse is stepping up in Micah’s spot, and Ellis [Brooks] is stepping up in Jan’s spot.”
He continued, saying they all give the same value while each bringing a different flavor to the game at the same time.
Junior Ellis Brooks, the most experienced player of the group, was able to learn some things from last year’s starters that he’s now able to implement into his game.
“I would say preparation,” Brooks said. “How they approached every single football game, their film study, and their approach in walk-through’s is just something I feel like me and the rest of the guys in the room now looked at and we kind of took and tried to put in our games because we saw how that worked out for them.”
Sophomore Charlie Katshir echoed a lot of what Brooks said, mentioning the work ethic that Johnson, Parsons, and Brown carried, which included getting extra reps after practice and really diving into the playbook.
Katshir made a position change this offseason and has been getting work at middle linebacker (MIKE). He said there has always been good competition in the linebacker room, and this room is certainly no different.
“We feel like we have really good competition this year,” Katshir said. “We keep pushing each other, and I think it’s going to be a pretty good season. We lost three starters, but we have people that that will come right back up and fill those spots.”
There are plenty of other guys in the linebacker room that will attempting to make their name a “household one,” as Luketa said. Returning players Lance Dixon and Max Chizmar didn’t receive a lot of playing time last year but will certainly compete for more snaps in 2020. Additionally, Robbie Dwyer and Alex Furmanek are coming off of redshirt seasons hungry for playing time.
Three incoming freshmen will be joining the Nittany Lions’ linebacker room this season. Four-star recruits Curtis Jacobs and Zuriah Fisher and three-star recruit Tyler Elsdon will attempt to make an impact early on in their college careers.
This season, Penn State football will play an eight-game, conference-only schedule. Despite the shortened season, Luketa is ready to embrace each opportunity.
“Eight games sounds like eight opportunities for me,” Luketa said. “We’re focused, we’re driven. We know what the task is at hand. Indiana, Indiana, Indiana. I know you told me we got eight but the only one that’s on my mind right now is Indiana.”
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