2018 Preview: The Front Seven
We flip over to the defensive side of the ball and give a preview of the 2018 Nittany Lion Front Seven. First, let’s take a look at the defensive line.
Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer has quite the challenge on his hands in 2018. After losing Parker Cothren, Curtis Cothran, and Tyrell Chavis to graduation and Ryan Buchholz and Torrence Brown this offseason for personal reasons, Spencer must fill in some starting spots and some back-up roles, as well.
At one DE spot, Shareef Miller will serve as a potential star on the line. Miller led the team in tackles for loss and sacks in 2017 and has another year of experience under his belt. Miller will be going for another double digit TFL season and look to crack double digits in sacks, as well. At the other DE spot, Coach Franklin and Spencer have a variety of promising options. Former top recruit Shane Simmons, Shaka Toney, and Yetur Gross-Matos will all see time on the opposite side of Miller. Fortunately, all three saw time in 2017 and would not be a major downgrade if Miller ever needs to come off the field. New to the defensive line is highly touted recruit Jayson Oweh, an athletic 6’5’’ 240 lb freshman who will look to crack the rotation in 2018.
Returning for the Nittany Lions in the middle of the line are two redshirt juniors Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor. Both have been a part of the line rotation in recent years. However, the depth behind them is unproven. Ellison Jordan and Antonio Shelton are both redshirt sophomores who combined for 15 tackles in 2017. Meanwhile, Damion Barber and Fred Hansard are all coming off their redshirt seasons and have legitimate shots at playing time. Lastly, true freshmen Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins, and P. J. Mustipher are all big bodies that could see time on the defensive line in 2018. Overall, this may be the most unproven position group on the team and despite its lack of experience, will need to mature quickly if Penn State wants to have a great season.
Losing two of the top 3 tacklers on the team in 2017, the Penn State linebacking group also has a lot to prove in 2018.
Koa Farmer returns and will look to continue to show his unique athleticism on the outside. Farmer boasted 47 tackles in 2017 and will be a key piece to the Penn State defense in creating a pass rush and forcing turnovers. Also returning is troubled linebacker Manny Bowen. Bowen has had several off field issues and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of playing time Coach Franklin and Coach Brent Pry give him in 2018. However, if Bowen is on the field, he is a playmaker. 5 Star recruit Micah Parsons has many Penn State fans excited to see what kind of impact he can have as a true freshman. He has been well received by coaches in the preseason and may serve in a starting role as a linebacker sooner rather than later.
Some other options at linebacker are senior Jake Cooper, junior Jarvis Miller, former walk-on Jan Johnson, athletic junior Cam Brown, Dae’Lun Darien. In addition, redshirt freshmen Ellis Brooks and Brelin Faison-Waldon will look to make their debuts along with true freshmen Jesse Luketa, Nick Tarburton and Charlie Katshir.
With a lot to replace, especially up the middle, the Penn State Front Seven could make or break the 2018 season for the Nittany Lions.