Notes From Media Day
August 17, 2011 – | No Comment

Before I begin, I should probably explain why we haven’t posted in a while. Frankly, it’s just been bad timing. I just got back from a study abroad program in Europe, and Charlie is still …

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Spring Position Profile: Linebackers

Submitted by on April 6, 2011One Comment

With under 2 weeks left until the Blue/White Game, quebecpenspinning is getting back in the football mood. It’s been a long offseason–and the scrimmage is really just a tease–but after what has felt like an interminably long offseason, that Blue/White Game is sorely needed.

And with that in mind, we’ll be profiling the team heading into the game, breaking down the roster, highlighting position battles, and looking at key players to watch. We continue with a look at Penn State’s linebackers.

Last year’s leaders: Chris Colasanti: 112 tackles (39 solo), 8.5 TFL; Nate Stupar: 73 tackles (35 solo), 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks; Michael Mauti: 67 tackles (32 solo), 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks; Bani Gbadyu: 50 tackles (21 solo), 2.5 TFL

Moving on: Colasanti, Gbadyu

Entering the fold: Gerald Hodges, Khairi Fortt, Mike Hull

No, one disastrous year isn’t enough to loosen Penn State’s grip on the title of Linebacker U. But if it ever could be, then last season was that year. Maybe we’d been spoiled by the perennial standouts on the teams of the preceding decades–the Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Navorro Bowman, and Sean Lee–led squads. Maybe the injuries that crushed the depth of this unit took their toll. Maybe an at-times ineffective defensive line forced more responsibility onto an untested linebacking corps. Or maybe it was Joe Paterno playing into that stereotype–that he favors upperclassmen over younger, better players. But whatever the cause, the effect was stark–the Nittany Lion linebacking corps of 2010 wasn’t just weak by Penn State standards, it was a straight-up bad unit.

I don’t want to place all the blame on Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu, but in every game, those two were responsible for a couple plays that just made you scratch your head–and that made it abundantly clear that they didn’t belong on the field. I was harsh on Josh Hull during his two years as a starter, but compared to those two, Hull might as well have been Poz. They took horrendous paths to ball-carriers, couldn’t wrap up, and got juked out of their shoes too many times to count. Hell, Gbadyu started 10 games…and still finished with 21 solo tackles. That’s just ugly.

Now, Colasanti has a bright future ahead of him, and a long career in the medical career–and Bani Gbadyu’s story, of escaping war-torn Liberia to make it this far is impressive enough on its own. But just as Anthony Morrelli’s graduation was addition-by-subtraction for Penn State, so too is the departure of those two.

But that’s because, barring injury, Penn State will boast remarkable depth at the linebacker position in 2011. I’ve been riding the Mike Mauti bandwagon since his freshman year, and I’m hopeful that the torn ACL that forced him to miss the entire 2009 season is totally behind him at this point. It took him until midseason to reach midseason form, but once he got there, he was spectacular. Take his performance against Northwestern–not only was Mauti the vocal leader of the group, but he was everywhere in that second half, wrapping up 10 solo tackles. If he can be at 100% by the fall, the potential is limitless.

Stupar’s career seemed to follow a similar trajectory as Mauti’s–both injected excitement on the defensive end in that 2008 season as true freshmen, and Stupar was especially dangerous in special teams, when he blocked two punts, and tackled another punter after a botched snap. He settles into a more comfortable reserve role in 2009, and started half of Penn State’s games last year. A senior in 2011, he might be Penn State’s best edge rusher in the linebacking corps–and, ironically enough, one of its best defenders against the pass. Hodges outgrew the safety position early on, but after a promising freshman campaign, his sophomore year got derailed early, when he broke his leg against Alabama. To Hodges’ credit, he worked his way back to the field in just over a month, returning in that Minnesota game, but never seemed to earn the trust of the coaching staff–though it seemed that in just about each game, he’d come in for an ineffective Gbadyu midway through the second quarter. Khairi Fortt had his freshman season interrupted by nagging injuries, but he showed flashes of immense skill, especially in the Illinois game–forced into starting duty, Fortt had 11 tackles, second most on the team. And young Mike Hull took a redshirt year in 2010–one spent learning the safety position, as many Nittany Lion linebackers do. He’s received nothing but rave reviews from those who’ve seen him play, and he might be the truest middle linebacker on the team. Glenn Carson, a converted fullback, has a similar profile, though he saw limited playing time in the 2010 season.

Verdict: One would have to assume that Mauti’s locked down the job at middle linebacker–he’s been switched to that position during spring drills–and the real battle is for starting time on the outside. A healthy Stupar would probably retain his starting job from last year, and Hodges probably has the inside track to man the strong-side. But this should be a fun position to watch during the spring game, even if Stupar’s nagging hamstring injury keeps him out. I’ll be watching Hull most closely–he’s supposed to be a special player–and even watching some of the depth players–like Carson, Dakota Royer, and Mike Yancich–should be intriguing, as one of those might well crack the rotation. We saw more experimentation with 4-linebacker sets last year–and Penn State might have the right personnel to run a 3-4 at times in 2011–so this position is poised for a total 180 from the struggles of last year.

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  • Justinmarnell

    It’ll be hard for the linebackers to be worse than last season. I still have nightmares of Trent Richardson dragging multiple players as he runs for more yards after contact. I’d just be happy with a return to fundamentals of wrapping up and body positioning