I’m not going to lie, I struggled to come up with a title for this one. Heck, it’s already been changed twice and will probably be switched twice more before it’s all said and done. As we enter the defensive position preview, we begin with a tale of three fronts. Gone are last season’s Alpha Dogs, Garrett Sickels and his comrade on the other side, Evan Schwan. Back are the entire rotation of defensive tackles and a hodgepodge of battle-tested sophomores and inexperienced redshirt freshmen chomping at the bit. It’s a distinct blend of seasoned vets and an unknown commodity as we enter a new year. We’re talkin’ the Wild Dogs folks and the defensive line just may be the biggest question mark of them all as we roll head first into title defense mode.
First things first, we begin with the plugs in the middle. The dudes that do the dirty work, the defensive tackles. Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran return one last time to butt heads in the trenches and occupy double teams. Sophomores Kevin Givens aka ‘The Beast’ and Rob Windsor spent a ton of time in the rotation and could each make a case to start if it weren’t for the two senior vets in front of them. Tyrell Chavis, Ellison Jordan, Antonio Shelton and Ryan Monk will be in a dogfight for playing time behind them. True freshmen Cory Bolds and Fred Hansard seem destined for redshirt seasons given the amount of depth inside.
At defensive end, the weight to replace the departure of Sickels and Schwan appears destined to fall on the shoulders of the triple threat Torrence Brown, Shareef Miller, and Ryan Buchholz. All three saw significant time a year ago and will be leaned on heavily to carry the torch. Behind them all the buzz is focused on two redshirt freshmen, Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney, as they finally make their debut in Blue and White. Classmates Daniel Joseph and Colin Costagna round out the options while true freshman Yetur Gross-Matos has turned heads early in camp and could find himself in the mix sooner rather than later.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the D-Line is the one group with the most unanswered questions heading into 2017. Most specifically at defensive end. But have no fear Nittany Nation, Coach Sean ‘Chaos’ Spencer has already proven himself worthy of turning nothing into something during his tenure in Happy Valley. In 2016, he was tasked with the impossible by replacing three All-Americans (Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, and Carl Nassib) and did so without skipping a beat. This year he returns the entire rotation of defensive tackles and has a new breed of defensive ends to work into the lineup. It’s a group of ends built with length, speed, and technique more than power. Their sole focus is to make life a living “you know what” for opposing QB’s. As for that title I struggled with at the onset of this position preview, given all the youth and excitement I’ve seen so far in camp, only one word can sum up what we’ve seen so far: HUNGRY! Hungry like the Wild Dogs they are!