Penn State Spring Football Preview – Defense

John Butler is the new Penn State Defensive Coordinator after being a Cornerback's coach.Since posting my article on the offense Coach Bill O’Brien has already proven me right on one point-He announced that he won’t be naming the starter at quarterback at the end of spring practice. He probably did this to avoid a round of questions on that topic at Monday’s press conference; that is just another sign that besides being a really good coach O’Brien unlike his predecessor is quite adept at handling the modern day media. Now on to the defense.

On the defensive line the major hole to fill is Jordan Hill‘s tackle spot. Many astute observers felt that Hill and not Devon Still was the true stud in the middle of the defensive line in 2011. Hill’s play in 2012 did nothing to change that view. I would expect DaQuan Jones to be one of the starters as he was much of last season with the other tackle spot to perhaps be a rotation of Austin Johnson and Derek Dowrey, two underclassmen that Hill thinks highly of. At end Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes will man one spot with Anthony Zettel, who saw significant playing time last season, having the edge for the other end spot.

The biggest area of concern for the defense has to be linebacker with the departure of Michael Mauti, a true PSU legend who also just happened to win the Butkus/Fitzgerald Award as the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, and Gerald Hodges, who actually was an underrated player at PSU when he wasn’t trying to return punts. Glenn Carson returns as the starter in the middle and Mike Hull figures to also start as he was the first backer off the bench last season. The 3rd starter is a question mark with injury involvement. Ben Kline played well last season in limited action; however, he just underwent shoulder surgery and will therefore miss spring practice. He is expected to be ready for pre-season drills which start at the beginning of August. This gives a possible opening to highly touted Nyeem Wartman, who missed most of the 2012 season with a new injury. In addition, depth is a potential problem at linebacker although a late 2012 recruit, Gary Wooten, will certainly have an opportunity to step up during spring practice.

The best news for the defense is that three starters, Adrian Amos at corner, Malcolm Willis at free safety and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, all return to man their respective positions. A replacement must be found for Stephon Morris; the top candidate at this point is Da’Quan Davis who did see significant time at corner last season. In addition, Malik Golden, who played corner in high school, has been moved from wide receiver to the defensive backfield. However, this could be because of subpar hands on his part; it is often said that defensive backs are often wide receivers who have trouble catching the ball. With two freshmen, the unrelated Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith, also already on campus, the secondary should have adequate depth. In fact, the defensive backfield may go from being the weak link of the defense early in 2012 to its strength at the start of the 2013 season.

The other major change on defense is the coaching staff. Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof, the subject of much criticism early in the 2012 season, suddenly departed to take the same position at his alma mater Georgia Tech where he replaces Al Groh. There is a link between Groh and PSU-at least in the mind of this conspiracy theorist. But that is for another day. At present day PSU John Butler was promoted to defensive coordinator; however, he will also still coach the cornerbacks. Ironically this was the exact responsibility of Tom Bradley during his last several years at Penn State. Anthony Midget has been brought in to coach the safeties. He comes highly recommended by both Frank Beamer who coached him at Virginia Tech and Bill Curry under who he worked as an assistant at Georgia State. I would expect Butler to continue Roof’s aggressive approach on defense.

On the whole I am optimistic about the 2013 season. I expect a winning record once again unless there are an unusual number of injuries or unless nobody steps up at the quarterback position.

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Chuck Reynolds

Chuck has followed PSU football and Philly sports since coming to Philly for law school in the late summer of 1981. In fact he went to his 1st live Philly sports event-a Phillies game at the Vet against Cincinnati-before attending any law school classes. Chuck currently practices civil trial law in New Jersey which unfortunately results in a lot of contact with New York sports fans. You can follow Chuck on Twitter @SportsChatChuck, a handle invented by his wife Mary Kay, a PSU alum and diehard Phillies fan.