Penn State Football’s Defensive Line Ready To Display Growth In Upcoming Home Opener

After displaying semblances of struggles up front last season, Penn State’s defensive line is bigger, faster, and primed to begin a new slate next weekend.

Last year, Penn State’s defense gave up 418 rushing yards against Michigan in what ended up being the seasonal low point for the Nittany Lions’ defense. This year, defensive tackle Zane Durant plans to use that game as motivation throughout the season.

“I take the run game personally, because of what happened last year,” Durant said. “I’ve been using that as a chip on my shoulder.”

Growing stronger in order to defend the run has been an emphasis for the defensive line all camp. Defensive tackle Jordan van den Berg set the program’s squat record earlier in the offseason and has dedicated himself to gaining weight and getting bigger.

“I came in at probably around 280,” van den Berg said. “Now, I’m up to 309.”

However, this isn’t the first time that van den Berg has broken the 300-pound weight barrier. This time, he’s stuck to a strict nutritional plan that he says will keep him quick on the line.

“When I was in the Outback Bowl, I got to 310 pounds also,” van den Berg said. “I felt slower, so I made sure this time to keep my body fat to a certain percentage.”

Last season, van den Berg appeared in all 13 games, recording nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Because of his dedication and raw ability in the weight room, van den Berg was named to Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List,” alongside fellow defensive tackle Durant, who has also gotten bigger over the offseason.

“I feel a lot stronger,” Durant said. “I feel just as twitchy as last year, if not twitchier and faster than I was before.”

Similarly, throughout the 2022 campaign, Durant appeared in all 13 games and recorded five tackles and one sack. Across his mentor’s first season after being promoted to defensive line coach, Deion Barnes believes that his players are helping each other to be better every day.

“They’re as close as they can possibly be,” Barnes said. “They’re pushing each other, [and] they all know that everything is earned.”

Barnes was promoted to defensive line coach after spending three years as a graduate assistant helping with the defensive line. The Philadelphia native has adapted well to the new role and says he enjoys watching an atmosphere that he creates transfer to the field.

“That’s the neatest thing to me,” Barnes said. “Seeing guys be intentional about the things that they do and are being coached on.”

Overall, Barnes believes that the leadership and experience of the defensive line will be its most important asset during the upcoming season. The Nittany Lions lost both nose tackle P.J. Mustipher and defensive end Nick Tarburton for this season, but they return an experienced group with veteran cornerstones. Barnes says that every member of his room is capable of being a leader and leading by example.

“Hakeem does a good job, Dvon does a good job, [and] Zane does a good job. They’re all that way,” Barnes said. “They’re all trying to make sure we’re the best we can be.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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