We are only two weeks from showtime and Akron lays in wait. The 2017 Nittany Lions have been on the grind since late July, hungry to take the next step and eager to defend their title. In the middle of it all, literally, stands a true senior from New Jersey, ready to bang heads and command the defensive ship one last time. It’s time to talk about the linebacker unit and it all begins with Jason Cabinda, the man in the middle.
Old school neck roll and all which, by all accounts from practice so far, he will be wearing once again, Cabinda has manned the Mike linebacker spot with perfection. He’s a warrior that has run the gauntlet in Blue and White. He was there for the lows and he relished the high of raising that Big Ten trophy. With a season to go, he’s 133 tackles away from overtaking Dan Connor as the all-time Nittany Lion leader. Whether that far-reaching feat happens or not, his legacy is already etched in stone.
Cabinda may call the shots but the rest of Linebacker-U is far from an afterthought. Brandon Smith moved to the outside recently, filled in for the injured Cabinda a year ago and played like a man on fire in his place. He may not get the start in 2017, but his leadership is invaluable as the former walk-on heads into his senior year. Manny Bowen returns a year wiser after missing the Rose Bowl for a violation of team rules and by all accounts has positioned himself for redemption. Cam Brown looks to build on a stellar freshman campaign and Jake Cooper returns after having his season cut short a year ago due to an injury.
The X factor of them all could be redshirt junior, Koa Farmer, who has finally found a home at the hybrid Star position, a combination safety/linebacker used on passing situations. His play down the stretch as Penn State made its nine-game run was darn near unstoppable and he heads into his junior campaign having created a niche for himself on the Nittany Lion D. His protégé, redshirt sophomore Jarvis Miller, made a splash of his own at this April’s Blue-White game and could provide an added element when the time comes. The trio of true freshmen Ellis Brooks, Brelin Franklin, and Brailyn Faison-Walden could provide depth if needed, but would be better served waiting in the wings.
It’s no secret that Linebacker-U was decimated by the injury bug in 2016. By the time Penn State took on Michigan in late September, the unit was down to walk-ons and true freshmen. The silver lining was those Linebackers who stepped in got experience they never would have gained otherwise. Smith became a stabilizing force; Brown proved that pulling his redshirt paid massive dividends; Farmer wreaked havoc on opposing QB’s down the stretch. Defensive Coordinator, Brent Pry, turned in a masterful coaching job piecing it all together until the starters made it back. They enter 2017 injury-free and ready to rumble with a new era of speed in their arsenal. The man in the middle may run the show, but Cabinda and company are chock-full of defensive weapons as they set their sights on defending the Big Ten Title!