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Projecting Penn State Football’s 2023 Starting Lineup: Defensive Front Seven

We are… so close to Penn State football, folks.

The Nittany Lions kick off the 2023 campaign in just over a week and are still continuing to iron out kinks in its depth charts. While players aren’t set in stone for where and how much they’ll see the field this season, we took a crack at predicting how the lineup will shake out when the squad runs out of the tunnel against West Virginia in nine days.

Penn State, ranked No. 7 in the preseason AP Poll, has plenty of expectations placed on its roster, with much credit due to the highly-touted defense. With some players to replace and others remaining as starters, the Nittany Lions have plenty to work with as they tinker with lineups heading into the season.

The team’s front seven has plenty of talent at its disposal. The likes of Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter are expected to hold down the linebacker roles, while Hakeem Beamon and Adisa Isaac bring starting experience to the defensive line.

Let’s jump into what we think the starting rotation will look like across the defensive trenches.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Hakeem Beamon, Dvon Ellies

Reserves: Zane Durant, Jordan van den Berg, Coziah Izzard, Davon Towney Jr., Kaleb Artis, Sam Siafa, Ty Blanding

Penn State is faced with the task of replacing key defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos after he played in all 13 of the Nittany Lions’ games in 2022. However, the team has Dvon Ellies, who started one game in 2022, and is ready to take a leap as an anchor at the position. Ellis started after Beamon against Northwestern, though Beamon started all other 12 games that season.

Beamon broke out in his redshirt junior season, recording 16 tackles and leading the defensive line in four pass breakups. The 2022 season was a remarkable comeback for Beamon, who was unavailable the previous season.

Waiting in the wings is Zane Durant, a sophomore with high potential, and redshirt sophomore Jordan van den Berg, who has spent the offseason breaking Penn State program records in the weight room.

The Nittany Lions also added Old Dominion transfer Alonso Ford Jr. who played in 12 games in 2022 and made 32 total tackles for the Monarchs. However, Ford will miss the entire 2023 season with an undisclosed injury.

Defensive End

Starters: Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson

Reserves: Dani Dennis-Sutton, Amin Vanover, Jake Wilson, Zuriah Fisher, Jamieal Lyons, Joseph Mupoyi, Mason Robinson, Bobby Mears, Joey Palko

Like the defensive tackle position, Penn State has one starter to replace at defensive end. With the departure of Nick Tarburton, junior Chop Robinson appears to be next in line. Both redshirt senior Adisa Isaac, who started all through 2022, and Robinson have been pinned to have massive years in the upcoming campaign.

Isaac, a redshirt senior, was a force during the 2022 season after missing the previous year due to injury. He tallied 28 tackles in his 13 starts and was named third-team All-Big Ten by coaches and picked up a conference honorable mention from the media.

That being said, fans can expect some rotation at defensive end. Sophomore Dani Dennis-Sutton impressed heavily in his debut season last year, and Franklin noted that he thought of Dennis-Sutton as an additional starter in 2023.

Amin Vanover also had a strong season in 2022, making 16 tackles and a sack in 13 appearances through his sophomore season. Jake Wilson and Zuriah Fisher will likely sit behind Vanover, as the pair saw limited playing time at defensive end last season.

Penn State will be missing redshirt senior Smith Vilbert for the 2023 season due to an injury. Vilbert has appeared in 17 games in his career, including the 2023 Rose Bowl game against Utah.

Linebackers

Starters: Abdul Carter, Curtis Jacobs, Tyler Elsdon

Reserves: Kobe King, Tony Rojas, Dominic DeLuca, Kaveion Keys, Ben Chizmar, Jackson Pryts, Keon Wylie, Ta’Mere Robinson, Winston Yates

Penn State’s linebacker depth has finally reached its peak for the first time since sanctions riddled the program in 2012.

While the group began the 2022 season with Curtis Jacobs, Tyler Elsdon, and Jonathan Sutherland as starters, Abdul Carter suddenly took over Sutherland’s spot as the season progressed. By the end of the season, the Nittany Lions had their starters presumably set for the 2023 season.

Jacobs brings the most experience to Penn State’s starting rotation, after earning an All-Big Ten honorable mention by coaches and media after his performance last season. Meanwhile, Elsdon, a fellow junior, has also earned reps since his freshman season, though he hasn’t earned the same accolades as Jacobs.

That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be any movement in the depth chart. Kobe King, who played in 13 games last year and recorded 42 total tackles, could be primed for a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore.

After Carter had a breakout freshman year in 2022, Tony Rojas could be due for the same in 2023. The young linebacker was touted as one of the best in his position in the recruiting Class of 2023 and reportedly put on 29 pounds since arriving in Happy Valley this January.

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About the Author

Joe Lister

Joe is a senior journalism major at Penn State and Onward State's managing editor. He writes about everything Penn State, especially its 10-2 football team. If you want to find him, Joe's usually watching soccer with his shirt off or at the gym with his shirt on. For dumb stuff, follow him on Twitter (iamjoelister). For serious stuff, email him ([email protected]).

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