Where Penn State’s Defense Stands
The Penn State defense lost several key players to graduation after the 2017 season and earlier this week the question marks got bigger. Redshirt junior defensive end Ryan Buchholz and freshman cornerback Jordan Miner announced their departure from football due to health reasons. With the absence of experience in Buchholz and depth in Miner, the Penn State defense will look to some familiar faces and a few new ones to step up and fill the gaps and determine where Penn State’s defense stands for the 2018 season.
Who To Watch For:
Senior leadership is what the defensive line will look for this season. Brown is coming off a season ending injury that he suffered against Georgia State in 2017. Head coach James Franklin stated that Brown won’t be ready for the season opener, but a player that, two seasons ago, finished third in the Big Ten in fumble recoveries and made 33 tackles will be a much needed mid-season pick-me-up upon his return in 2018.
The fourth-year junior was selected as 3rd Team All-Big Ten after the 2017 season. Miller recorded 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, and nine hits on the quarterback a season ago. Miller paired with Shaka Toney should make waves while the fans wait for Brown to return.
Gross-Matos is a 6-foot 5-inch sophomore coming into the 2018 season weighing 262 pounds. Shareef Miller stated this week that Gross-Matos “is a big kid, but he’s just … a freak.” Miller went on to state that he takes things from Gross-Matos’s game. Further, Miller watches his game to improve. Gross-Matos is coming off of a 13 games-played true-freshman season that included 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Look for him to take strides in his sophomore season.
With the loss of Jason Cabinda to the NFL, Cam Brown will look to fill the role of middle linebacker entering the 2018 season. During spring practice Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry had him practicing at both weak side and strong side linebacker as well as in the middle. Brown has played in 25 games during his career. In that time he has accounted for 64 tackles. Without Cabinda and Brandon Smith to command the defense, look for Brown to step-up and be the voice that the other players listen for.
True freshman linebacker Parsons has been turning heads since he enrolled at Penn State early in January. During the Blue & White game in April, Parsons recorded several tackles and showed glimpses of what is to come in the coming years for him. Parsons came to Penn State in January as a 5-star recruit. He weighed 235 pounds before entering a Penn State weight room. During summer practice, Parsons has mixed in with the ones and twos at weakside linebacker. He will undoubtedly be the linebacker of the future and look for that future to start this season.
Bowen is back on the team after being dismissed in December 2017. James Franklin stated that he will not start week one, but it will be good to have experience in the linebacker unit. Bowen has accounted for 137 total tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in 21 career starts for the Nittany Lions.
The graduate senior has played on offense, special teams, and has now found himself in the secondary for the Nittany Lions. He will look to fill a role left open by Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. Scott is a second-year captain for the Nittany Lions. Cornerbacks coach, Terry Smith, stated that Scott is “one of the best athletes on the team, and he and Trace [McSorley] are our two best leaders on the team.” Leadership is much needed for a unit that lost four starters to graduation.
Reid is finally back from injury that kept him out the entire 2017 season. Penn State fans should be rejoicing. Two seasons ago Reid had 36 tackles, five for loss, and broke up nine passes during his sophomore season. He was expected to have a big junior year when an ACL injury forced him to take a medical redshirt instead. The 2017 season was spent studying game film, watching the coaching staff call plays, and helping his teammates become better. Reid is finally ready to get back on the field. He is coming back wiser and readier than ever to fill the shoes of the starters that will now play on Sundays.
Entering his final season in blue and white Oruwariye has yet to record a start for the Nittany Lions. Grant Haley and Christian Campbell both played ahead of Oruwariye. He deferred to the two veterans to call the shots and be leaders of the secondary. Now that Haley and Campbell are both in the NFL, it is Oruwariye’s turn. He is the most senior member of the secondary and ready to step into the leadership role that Haley and Campbell paved for him. Oruwariye finished the 2017 as a 2nd Team All-Big Ten honoree. Look for Oruwariye to end his Penn State career with a bang.
Penn State’s defense stands in a better position than fans think. These are just several of the players to watch for at each position this season. The secondary has Garrett Taylor. The linebackers have Koa Farmer. Finally, the defensive line will likely utilize incoming freshman Jayson Oweh.
To see a mix of the new and the old and to see where the Penn State defense stands in 2018, the Nittany Lions will make their 2018 debut against Appalachian State on September 1 in Beaver Stadium.