Make no mistake about it, the biggest hole in our Defense heading into this year is not the loss of a handful of seniors who poured their everything into Penn State, nor is it finding a replacement for Yetur Gross-Matos who took his sack-happy talent to the NFL. Believe it or not, Micah Parsons decision to opt-out has little bearing on our D either, as crazy as that sounds. The departures I just mentioned would typically spell doom for most teams, but for us, I truly believe we’ve reached a point of re-load rather than rebuild and that’s never been more evident than with this year’s defense.
No folks, who we have suiting up in 2020 is the least of my worries, as you will soon see. It is the ghost left behind from the Art of Chaos that has me most concerned. Sean Spencer, head of the WildDogs, moved on to perfect his craft with the New York Giants and with him, he took an identity, not to mention a whole ton of swagger. Thank goodness for Brent Pry of course, the mainstay on defense and James Franklin’s right hand man as far as coaches who have remained committed for the long haul. Except for Dwight Galt, Pry remains the only coach that transferred with CJF from Vanderbilt and as we head into a new season, there’s no doubt our Leader of D will have the Nittany Lions PRYmed and ready!
Speaking of WildDogs, Chaos may have left the building, but those dogs still carry a lot of bark along the D-Line. Led by seniors Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons on the edge, as well as Antonio Freeman, who I fully expect to carry on the torch inside, I double-dog dare you to try and run between the tackles. There’s blazing speed on the outside with Jayson Oweh, Adisa Issac, and Nick Tarburton, dead set on crushing QB’s on the outside. Defensive tackle is loaded with run-stuffers clogging up the middle as PJ Mustifer, Big Fred Hansard, and Judge Culpeper form the starting rotation along with Shelton. Joseph Darkwa, Aeneas Hawkins, and Hakeem Beamon are able and ready to step in as needed.
Pry’s influence is evident at Linebacker in 2020. The loss of Parsons may have stung but this unit is littered with enough 5-star talent that we barely blinked when he announced his intent to opt-out in August. Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks will be tasked with filling the shoes Micah left behind. Brandon Smith has been labeled the next great at LBU and he is joined on the outside by Lance Dixon and true freshman Curtis Jacobs, while Max Chismar, Zuriah Fisher, and Charlie Katsir maintain a powerful two-deep.
In the defensive backfield, it all begins and ends with safety Lamont Wade who finished 2019 with one of the most ferocious performances down the stretch. Senior Tariq Castro-Fields leads the cornerbacks with any combination of Marquis Wilson, Joey Porter Jr., and Keaton Ellis, or Daequan Hardy expected to man the island on the opposite side. Jaquan Brisker is likely to start opposite Wade with Jonathan Sutherland and Trent Gordon being first off the bench, but expect to see plenty of newcomers in Ja’Aiyir Brown (another Lackawanna transfer, along with Brisker), Enzo Jennings and Tyler Rudolph.
The Art of Chaos may be gone, but the architect and mastermind of our defense is and always has been Altoona-native Brent Pry. He understands us. He knows what to dial up on third-and-short with Beaver Stadium rocking; to send the crowd into a frenzy. He built our expectations back to where they were when men like Poz, Lee, and Arrington roamed the sidelines. We’ve been on the brink over the past few years but as 2020 gets set for kick off at Indiana on Saturday afternoon, the Hoosiers better take cover. They have no idea what’s getting ready to hit them!