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Penn State Football’s Defensive End Depth Forging Competition & Growth

While Penn State football may be nearing the halfway point of its season with its contest against UMass Saturday, the defense remains fresh.

After the White Out game against Iowa, James Franklin said his defense played 86 fewer snaps through the first four games of the season than it had the year before. While some of the reduced play can be attributed to college football’s new clock rule that shortened the number of drives in games, most of it’s a result of the Nittany Lions’ defensive dominance.

While both the front seven and the secondary have made plays and forced turnovers, the defensive line’s stifling style of play stands out. Through five games, the Nittany Lion front seven allowed just 71 yards per game on the ground, while the defense as a whole recorded 20 sacks for a loss of 140 yards.

Tired players, however, were never a concern for Franklin coming into the season with the depth he’s managed to create for the defense as a whole.

Defensive end Amin Vanover believes playing in a room with so much talent forces him to be better every day.

“It makes you come out every day and have a positive attitude,” Vanover said Wednesday. “The room is very competitive and is trying to get to where you are or be just as good as you are.”

After missing the first two games of the season, Vanover reentered Penn State’s lineup during the win over Illinois. Vanover didn’t record a stat against the Illini but tallied three solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in the two games since.

While Vanover would’ve rather been playing, he says he realized his obligation to support his teammates from afar.

“Missing the first few games, it wasn’t fun to watch,” Vanover said. “When I got back on the field, it was a joyful moment for me.”

Zuriah Fisher, one of Vanover’s counterparts at defensive end, also knows what it’s like to come back from an injury. Last year, Fisher watched from the sidelines for all but two of Penn State’s regular-season games. Fisher is back this year and has already stepped into a motivational role for the defensive line.

“I would say [Fisher’s] the keystone player on the line,” Vanover said. “When he’s on, he’s on. And the energy he brings out every day and his work ethic, it just brings everybody up.”

Fisher didn’t like the idea of coming back to the team with two games left in the season, but now realizes he made the right choice.

“I felt like my knee wasn’t ready,” Fisher said. “Now that I’m looking back at it, that was the best thing that happened to me.”

Along with recovering Vanover’s forced fumble, Fisher has seven total tackles and 2.5 sacks on the year.

While both Vanover and Fisher don’t have the flashy numbers that defensive end Chop Robinson or Dani Dennis-Sutton may have, they are both valuable pieces to a defensive line that’s coming together seamlessly in the build-up to the bigger games of the season.

Competition and the drive to win are obviously the big motivators in the defensive line room, but Fisher credits defensive line coach Deion Barnes with creating a culture that makes Fisher excited to go to meetings.

“It’s comedy, but we work in there too,” Fisher said. “Coach Deion is teaching us the right things. That’s probably the best time of my day because you know you’re going to get better.”

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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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