Blue White Roundtable: Alabama Week Edition
September 7, 2011 – | No Comment

Once again, it’s Adam Collyer over at BlackShoeDiaries providing the questions, and we, your humble bloggers, providing the answers. Mine are below, and you can venture off to the remote areas of the blogosphere that …

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Position Profile: Linebacker

Submitted by on September 1, 2010No Comment

With less than two weeks until Penn State takes on Youngstown State, the mixing and matching of the spring and summer is starting to die down. The starting lineup and rotation is mostly set, and we’re taking a look as just how each position stacks up. We continue with a look at Penn State’s linebackers, where the departure of three starters create the opportunity for a new generation to make their mark.

Last Year: Josh Hull started all 13 games, and led the team with 115 tackles (47 solo), 8.5 for a loss. Navorro Bowman started 11 games and racked up 93 tackles (52 solo), 17 for a loss, and scored 2 touchdowns. Sean Lee started 8 games, and accumulated 86 tackles (47 solo), 11 for a loss.

Key Losses: Lee and Hull graduated and were drafted in the 2nd and 7th rounds, respectively. Navorro Bowman left after his junior season to the NFL draft, and was picked in the 3rd round.

Overview: For Linebacker U, this is a rare conundrum. With the departures of all three starting linebackers, each of whom found themselves either on the first or second teams all-Big Ten a year ago, Penn State finds itself in a tricky spot.  But Penn State’s been put in similar positions before. Two years ago, Dan Connor’s graduation and Sean Lee’s knee injury left Tyrell Sales as the only linebacker who’d had significant experience. A walk-on was forced into the middle.  And before Navorro Bowman forced his way into the starting lineup, the third starter was someone who’d made 6 tackles the year before.

And yet, Penn State’s defense that year was one of the best in the country.  Bowman burst onto the scene as one of the best linebackers in the conference, if not the nation, and Hull and Sales held their own.

This time around, there’s almost assuredly even more talent.  So don’t cry for Linebacker U, because if you don’t expect this unit to be one of the best in the Big Ten, you’re severely underestimating them.  Penn State won’t be rebuilding at the linebacker position, they’ll reload, and come back just as strong in 2010.

Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu combined for 7 starts and 68 tackles in the wake of the injuries to Bowman and Lee, and provided terrific depth. Now that they’re pushed into the limelight, big things are going to be expected from the pair.  Gbadyu, whose incredible upbringing was chronicled beautifully by Rich Scarcella in the Reading Eagle has faced plenty more pressure in his life than living up to the expectations of Linebacker U–try fleeing a war-torn Liberia and trying to hold together a family as a mere teenager. And Stupar impressed so many of us in his freshman season of 2008 with his balls-to-the-wall mentality, especially on special teams, where his reckless abandon made him an instant fan favorite. (And on a personal note, I was in a class with Stupar last spring, and he’s a very nice kid.)

The other presumptive starter, though, has more question marks surrounding him. Through Chris Colasanti looks the part, at a stout 6’2, 241 pounds, and though he came to Penn State with an impressive,  all-state pedigree, he’s never really put it all together, and been anything more than a backup.  Last year, the plan was to redshirt Colasanti–as a junior–in the hopes that an extra year of seasoning could help get him over the hump.  But that was burned following the injuries to Lee and Bowman, when Penn State desperately needed an extra linebacker.  Even so, he managed little playing time, still benched behind the underclassmen.  But he’s had a good offseason, according to reports, and even if he struggles early, Penn State won’t be in such a bad situation.

That’s because of Michael Mauti, who comes roaring back after a knee injury forced him into a redshirt season last year.  Mauti proved himself to be more than a legacy recruit almost from day one, when the high school all-American matched Stupar in his temerity on special teams.  Against Michigan, he replaced an ineffective Josh Hull for much of the first half, and made 7 stops, helping to shut down what had been an effective Wolverine running game.  Before last season, he was slated to replace Hull as a starter, but the ACL tear shut down that plan.  Still, Mauti–more than any other Lion–has the ability to pick up right where Lee and Bowman left off, and inheret the Linebacker U title that’s been passed down through the years.

After that, you have “depth” players who would be starting at 100 other schools.  Gerald Hodges is an athletic freak, at 6-2, 228, who’s come down from safety to linebacker and may well take the role of special teams ace.  Mike Yancich will back up the middle, and he’s another one of those Lions who was a very highly touted prospect out of high school. For years, Penn State’s gone with a deep rotation along the defensive line to keep everyone fresh. With six linebackers who have legitimate NFL talent and potential, you may well see Rod Vanderlinden do the same with his crew. And that’s not even considering Mike Hull and Khairi Fortt, both true freshmen, who have all the talent and athleticism in the world.  But with 6 great linebackers ahead of them, a redshirt season might best serve the youngsters.

Three Questions:

1. Can Chris Colasanti hold down the middle? Of all the linebackers who figure into the rotation, Colasanti is probably the one we know the least about.  Sure, we remember that he was a big get for Penn State four years ago, but we’ve never really seen him get substantial playing time.  It certainly seems like he’s been passed over, at least in the collective minds of the Penn State faithful, by younger, more dynamic linebackers. As a senior, it’s his last time to shine. Still, I see his upside as Josh Hull, circa 2008.  Is that going to be enough?

2. Where will Michael Mauti fit in? It’s funny, with all the hype that’s been thrust on Mauti, it really feels like he had more than just 26 tackles in his freshman season, back in 2008.  But it’s almost been unanimously decided that he’s the one to pick up where Lee left off, and Connor and Posluzsny before him. Still, he was listed behind Nate Stupar in Penn State’s first official depth chart release.  Then again, that also had Chaz Powell starting at cornerback, so take that depth chart with a grain of salt.  Mauti’s best chance might be to take over in the middle, if Colasanti isn’t up to the task.

3. Which freshmen see the field? In Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull, Penn State secured the commitments of two of the best linebackers in the country. Two all-Americans, two entirely different players, but two future studs nonetheless.  Fortt was the only one of the two listed on the preseason depth chart, as a 3rd-team outside linebacker, but Mike Hull has received the even more impressive reviews from onlookers.  Hull also received the “practice at safety” treatment that Hodges and Mauti got before him, to try and work on his cover skills.  The ability is unquestionably there, but the question is whether it’s worth wasting a year of eligibility when there’s so much talent in front of them.

Extra Bonus Question: In what game does Chris Colasanti lose his hold on the middle linebacker position? Or does he not?

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