Penn State’s Defense Caps Off Dominant Spring Period In Blue-White Display
Penn State’s defense proved to be a staunch difference-maker from the first snap during Saturday’s low-scoring Blue-White game. Only one touchdown was given up by the defense, which came on a 28-yard slant to Omari Evans of the Blue Team.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense was one of the best units in the country during the 2022 season, finishing No. 10 nationally in scoring defense and No. 5 in yards per play. The expectations for this year’s squad are now sky-high given the recent successes and limited amount of player turnover.
Most notably, the Nittany Lions are going to be without Joey Porter Jr., PJ Mustipher, and Nick Tarburton in 2023 after they all declared for the NFL Draft.
This year, safety and newly-named defensive captain Keaton Ellis will have to step up and fill the leadership role vacated by the draft-bound players.
Head coach James Franklin was impressed with the talent his defense displayed and says he hasn’t seen this much depth since before the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset.
“We’re back in a different place from a depth perspective, and that’s been really valuable,” Franklin said. “We’ve even got some guys coming in that we’re excited about, and that’ll be great.”
Penn State’s defensive corps gained a lot of attention from a thrilled coaching staff after the contest.
“Dani [Dennis-Sutton] was unblockable out there today,” Franklin said. “I thought KJ Winston was flying all over the field, they’re gonna have a great year for us.”
Perhaps the brightest star for the defense Saturday was Tony Rojas, a freshman early enrollee who tallied nine solo tackles, one pass breakup, and a half tackle-for-loss.
The standout rookie garnered attention from teammates and coaches alike, who were all very impressed with Rojas’ performance during Saturday’s game. Chop Robinson, a junior defensive end, believes that Rojas has a lot of potential, despite his true-freshman standing.
“He’s going to be great,” Robinson said. “As long as he keeps developing and gaining confidence, he’s going to be a special player.”
Another difference maker on the defense was sophomore defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton. Dennis- Sutton notched two sacks and one quarterback hurry on four total tackles during the spring game.
After appearing in 13 games last season as a true freshman, Dennis-Sutton was named a true freshman All-American by ESPN. Dennis-Sutton foresees continued success using his past experiences in the blue and white, along with a renewed work ethic for the upcoming season.
“I try and rep everything out in practice,” Dennis-Sutton said. “Then, when I’m in a pass rush situation, it’s just sort of muscle memory, going with the flow instead of thinking.”
The Millsboro, Delaware native says that experiencing one season in a limited capacity has him feeling more prepared and excited than ever for his potential larger role in this season’s scheme.
“I think my first year really helped me a lot, just in terms of the games and everything around it,” Dennis-Sutton said. “Now, I’m ready to take on bigger roles. I know what I have to do.”
Overall, Penn State’s defense is dealing with immensely high expectations going into the upcoming season, but Dennis-Sutton is using those high expectations as motivation.
“I’ve gained about 10 pounds over the offseason,” Dennis-Sutton said. “I’ve become faster, I understand the plays more. This defense just has so much going for it right now.”
Quarterback Drew Allar struggled early during the scrimmage, and all three quarterbacks were hurried and flushed out of the pocket fairly often, even with the star-studded offensive line. Allar believes that his young receivers and rushers had one of the toughest tasks they’ll face all season in dealing with their own defense.
“It helps to go against a defense like we have here,” Allar said. “It’s an unreal defense with a great coaching staff and it challenges us every day.”
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