Penn State 2024 Defensive Line Preview

Penn State Defensive Line 2024 Preview

A dominant defensive line is important to a stout overall defense.  The defensive line stops the inside run.  This takes away a key component of an offensive game plan, especially in short-yardage situations.  Additionally, the defensive line can provide pressure in the passing game.  That can mask a breakdown or weaker secondary.  Therefore, previewing the defensive line provides a window into the overall defense.  The Penn State 2024 defensive line preview is all about holding down the fort.

Penn State 2024 Defensive Line Preview: Holding Down the Fort

New defensive coordinator Tom Allen will be tasked with ensuring the defensive line holds its own.  While Penn State is proudly known as Linebacker U, the defensive line is a dynamic unit within Allen’s defense that should be a strength again in 2024.

Gone are two premier pass rushers from the 2023 squad.  On the surface, that would make the defensive line a question mark.  However, Allen and James Franklin are moving arguably the defense’s best player to defensive end.  This shift, coupled with strong prospects ready to make their mark, positions the defensive line as stout entering 2024.

Penn State’s Past Defensive Line Standouts

While Penn State has historically been known as Linebacker U, there have been successful Nittany Lions that also played on the defensive line.  The most notable have been pass-rushing defensive ends.  However, some defensive tackles have also done well and gone on to successful professional careers.

Fairly recently, players like Courtney Brown, Tamba Hali, Adisa Isaac, and Chop Robinson have represented the Nittany Lions well.  Robinson was a 2024 first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins.

While the list of stars from the Penn State defensive line is not as well-known as other positions like linebacker, there have been solid defensive linemen that have passed through Happy Valley.  They also helped pave the way for the linebackers to succeed by occupying blockers and opening up pass-rushing lanes.

Performance of the Defensive Line in 2023

Penn State’s defensive line was a strength of the overall defense, and the overall team, in 2023.  Penn State was ranked third in scoring defense under former coordinator Manny Diaz, who is now head coach at Duke University.  The unit allowed only 13.5 points per game, and the defensive line was a big part of that.  In the regular season, the Penn State defense led the nation in yards allowed per game at 223.3.  The defense was also third in rushing yards per game at 69.7.  Most impressive, the Nittany Lions defense led the nation in sacks with 49.

The most notable members of the defensive line were edge rushers Isaac and Robinson.  Isaac finished 2023 with 37 tackles and seven and a half sacks.  Robinson contributed 15 tackles with four sacks.  Dvon Ellies had 26 tackles on the interior, and Zane Durant had 17.  At defensive end, Dani Dennis-Sutton contributed 26 tackles along with three and a half sacks, while Zuriah Fisher had 17 tackles and three and a half sacks.

As noted above, both Robinson and Isaac finished their college careers at the end of 2023, with Robinson going in the first round to the Dolphins, and Isaac in the third round to the Ravens.  They took with them 11.5 sacks, and 23.5 tackles for loss, of 2023 production.

New Coordinator, Similar Lineup, Holding Down the Fort

Defensive coordinator Allen and defensive line coach Deion Barnes will look to maintain the defensive line’s stature as a strength of the defense in 2024.  While Allen joins the staff after being head coach at Indiana, Barnes enters his fifth year with Penn State.  In his first three years as a coach, Barnes was a graduate assistant working with the defensive line.  This will be his second season as defensive line coach.  Barnes is also one of the best recruiters on the Penn State coaching staff.

On the outside, Dennis-Sutton will be relied upon to take a leadership role.  He is an elder statesman on the defensive line.  Additionally, Abdul Carter, who wears the prime defensive number 11, will be moving from linebacker to defensive end.  With him comes the four-and-a-half sacks he produced in 2023.

Within the interior, Ellies returns and will be a focal point of the defensive line (as well as game planning by opposing offensive coaches).  Ellies profiles is more of a traditional run stuffer.  Durant returns as well.  He does well against both the run and pass.  The only notable loss is Jordan van der Berg, who transferred to Georgia Tech.

The Bottom Line

As a preview of the 2024 season and the defensive line, the unit should remain a strong point for the overall defense, and team.

The team will be losing a lot of production due to the drafting of both premier edge rushers, Isaac and Robinson.  It will be a challenge to replace their 11.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, but not impossible given the strength of the defensive line.

Carter will need to get used to the defensive line after moving from linebacker.  However, he has the skill set to make the move work and replace some of the production lost by Isaac’s and Robinson’s departures.  He should see a material increase to his 2023 sack total of four and a half.  Dennis-Sutton, in a leadership role this season, should also improve.

The interior of the line remains essentially unchanged.  That stability will bode well for the overall line, both from a leadership standpoint and a statistical production standpoint.  The unit’s production against the run should still be one of the best in the country, similar to 2023.

Bringing it all together is new defensive coordinator Allen.  While he has control of the total defense, he is also the linebackers coach (which is no small feat at Penn State).  His ability to work with Barnes to maximize the production of the defensive line will be an unlock for incremental production in 2024.

The ability to stay healthy is also of paramount importance for the defensive line.  With the continuity of most of the defensive line, the “next man up” mentality in the event of injury will keep the defensive line performing well.  Key reserves returning like Amin Vanover, Hakeem Beamon, and Coziah Izzard, provide the depth that should keep the defensive line’s performance on par with expectations.


Penn State Defensive Line 2024 Preview
Photo courtesy: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports


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