We have previewed the Penn State secondary looking at both the safeties and the cornerbacks. In addition, we have looked at the quarterbacks and the tight ends. All of these groups have lost a significant piece, but are also returning several key players. Now it is time to preview the linebackers. All-American linebacker Micah Parsons opted out of the 2020 football season and is now preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions had a few issues without Parsons during the 2020 season. The defense looked lost at times, without proper direction. Now, the linebackers know what to expect without the All-American. And even better? The core group will be returning for the 2021 season. So, let’s preview the Penn State linebackers heading into the Blue and White game.
Who Are the Penn State Linebackers?
The linebackers will look very familiar during the Penn State Blue and White game on April 17th. Several main linebackers are returning for the 2021 season and the Nittany Lions will undoubtedly be excited for leadership in the group again. So, who are the Penn State linebackers and what can fans expect from them?
Linebacker One: Jesse Luketa
Luketa is a true junior and the linebacker with the most on-field experience for the Nittany Lions. As a true freshman in 2018, the Canada prospect made his debut and accounted for seven tackles during that season. As a sophomore, Luketa made two starts and drastically improved. He recorded 24 total tackles and assisted on a tackle for loss against Idaho. In addition, the sophomore had four pass breakups. Luketa was one of the linebackers to step up in Parsons’ absence in 2020. He appeared in nine games in the shortened season and made eight starts. Luketa was also selected as a team captain. The junior will likely improve on his already improved 2020 production in the Fall.
He was thrust into a larger role in 2020 than was expected. In the shortened season, Luketa’s production merely increased. He recorded 59 total tackles, two-and-a-half for loss, and was responsible for a fumble recovery. For being thrown into a starting role last minute, the junior did alright. Now, it will be his main job to improve on what he did in 2020 to compete for the middle linebacker position during this Spring to prepare for a, hopefully, much better Fall 2021.
Linebacker Two: Ellis Brooks
Brooks and Luketa were not supposed to be starters together during the shortened 2020 season. However, that is exactly what happened when Parsons opted out of the season and Luketa had to take over the Will linebacker position. The change was sudden before the 2020 season started, but now it is likely seen as a good thing. These two have built up chemistry, but will not be competing for the middle linebacker position. The redshirt junior had arguably his best season yet in a shortened 2020 season. In four fewer games, Brooks had 20 more tackles in 2020 than in 2019. Further, he accounted for five-and-a-half tackles for loss, one sack, and two forced fumbles. Brooks gained high praise this week from new Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich. Yurcich tweeted about the linebacker in a series of tweets from several Penn State coaches.
.@Ellis_brooks13 is the real deal! Iron2Iron #Lion2Lion #Weare #LBU pic.twitter.com/D5P8aZCl4W
— Michael Yurcich (@Coach_Yurcich) April 10, 2021
Linebacker Three: Curtis Jacobs
Jacobs will technically only be a freshman for the 2021 season despite playing in five games in 2020 due to all eligible football players regaining the year of eligibility due to COVID-19. Through five games last season the former five-star recruit accounted for nine total tackles. After practice last week James Franklin asserted that if there was a game this Spring Jacobs would be starting on the outside. Franklin told Tyler Donohue of 247Sports that he has, “Been very, very pleased with him,” during Spring camp so far. The freshman will reprise his role at outside linebacker in the Fall, but with increased snaps and not positioned behind Brandon Smith. Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry was openly critical of the defense after the 2020 season, but all of the coaches have shown praise for the linebackers during the Spring.
Linebacker Four: Brandon Smith
Smith will be a third-year sophomore in the Fall and will bring much-needed veteran leadership to the defense. In eight games last Fall Smith accounted for 37 total tackles, eight for loss, and two sacks. In addition, Smith had one interception, a pass defended, and a fumble recovery. If Jacobs can develop throughout the rest of Spring practice and Summer camp the way that the coaches think he will, the duo will be a force to be reckoned with at the outside linebacker positions this Fall.
Franklin went on to tell Donohue, “We knew both were good, but both have probably come in better than anticipated, especially from an approach and a maturity standpoint,” he said. “… Those two guys have a chance to really make our Linebacker U — from a historical perspective — make all those former linebackers and fans proud.” Being able to utilize a veteran Smith in tandem with a young, talented Jacobs is going to be exciting for fans to see.
Fans and coaches will get a lot of answers this weekend during the Blue and White game. Expect a middle linebacker battle into Summer camp between Luketa and Brooks, unless something changes in the development of the four above. Regardless, Penn State Football is back on April 17th for the Blue and White game. Things are looking up in Happy Valley.