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Despite Key Exits, Penn State Football’s Defensive Line Cultivating Talent Through Spring Ball

There’s hardly ever any shortage of talent on Penn State’s defensive line, but with Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh off to the NFL Draft, there’s several Nittany Lions who’ll be thrusted into new roles this fall.

Oweh and Toney were obviously an impressive pair at the end positions. Oweh led the line with 38 total tackles while Toney was close behind with 31 of his own, but defensive tackle PJ Mustipher was second in the group with 35. The 326-pound tackle had himself a big junior season, and he’ll now be the most experienced of anyone in the group with three campaigns under his belt.

Mustipher has turned heads already throughout Penn State’s spring ball, as his coach John Scott Jr. had plenty of praise for him Wednesday night.

“He has bulked up and he’s moving really, really well,” Scott said. “PJ is gonna be a stout guy in there. In this league, where people try to big-boy you and things like that, we’re gonna be able to hold up at the point of contact. He’s also nimble enough to make plays with his feet.”

Mustipher did plenty of the dirty work inside for the Nittany Lions throughout the 2020 season, and already had proved in 2019 that he can produce for James Franklin’s team. He put up an impressive 37 total tackles as a sophomore, including 4.5 for a loss, and even added a sack and a forced fumble.

“I’ve been really impressed with PJ,” Scott said. “He’s working on all of the little things and all the minute details. I think it’s gonna pay off for him. I like the way he’s working, moving, and leading.”

While Mustipher is a veteran who’s gotten plenty of attention up front, defensive end Nick Tarburton also adds valuable experience to a group that has eyes on them entering a highly anticipated 2021.

Tarburton also just wrapped up his third season in Happy Valley, but several injuries have slowed down some of his production thus far. He redshirted in 2019 due to injury after his true freshman year in 2018, and appeared in seven games last fall.

The defensive end out of Green Line, Pennsylvania may not have the most chatter surrounding him, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and ranked as the No. 10 player in the state.

“Nick has had a really good spring so far. It started with his winter offseason, just in there grinding,” Scott said. “[He]’s got a chance to help our football team and make plays. He’s a super smart guy, and he’s always in the right spot…I value so much his leadership in our room.”

Veteran experience is important, but there’s no ignoring the fact that Penn State loses 69 total tackles and five sacks to the NFL. Scott won’t necessarily be able to replicate that production right off the bat, but he and the coaching staff have done all they can in the transfer portal.

As part of a busy winter in the portal, Penn State earned commitments from Temple’s Arnold Ebiketie and Duke’s Derrick Tangelo.

It’s hard to imagine the first of the pair won’t produce as a Nittany Lion, as that’s all he did at Temple. The Owls didn’t have a great 2020 season, but Ebiketie certainly did. In just six games, the redshirt junior defensive end made 42 total tackles, four sacks, and forced three fumbles.

“Arnold, we call him AK, has done a great job blending in the culture here,” Scott said. “He’s a quiet guy and you might not hear him say anything, but man, he comes to work…He works his butt off and he is super athletic and talented. We were able to beat some very high-level people to get his services.”

Tangelo also brings a wealth of experience from the ACC. He started three seasons for the Blue Devils, including a 2020 campaign in which he logged 40 tackles and a pair of sacks.

While both will have to understandably take some time to adjust to Big Ten football, the pair will certainly add some much-needed talent to a group that is losing plenty of it.

Anchored by Mustipher, Penn State’s defensive line could be a quietly dominant group by the the time the 2021 season rolls around. They’ll need to be ready right out of the gate, as Penn State will open the season against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, September 4.

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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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