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Penn State Football: Bowen And Cooper Come Into Focus To Sustain Linebacker Depth

by on September 07, 2016 6:00 AM

As defensive end Evan Schwan and defensive tackle Kevin Givens both limped off the field on Saturday afternoon it was a harsh reminder to everyone how quickly rising talent can turn into an anticipated return. For Schwan it was an injury that seemingly jeopardized his season after years of waiting for his turn. For Givens it was a quick end to a Nittany Lion debut.

Both players are as best anyone can tell, okay for the remainder of the season or at least some portion of it. Even so, it goes to show how fast depth at any position is only a snap from suddenly changing.

Fortunately for Penn State the Nittany Lions aren't short on defensive linemen. Not all proven but there is plenty of potential and talent to go around. The same cannot be said for Penn State's linebacker corps, the departure of Troy Reeder to Delaware a big punch to the rising talent at that position. Jason Cabinda, Nyeem Wartman-White and Brandon Bell are all proven, but Wartman-White is coming off a season ending injury while Bell spent much of the summer recovering from his own set of ailments.

In turn James Franklin and his staff are faced with the challenge of getting young talent up to speed and hoping that the rest stays healthy. The two names to watch in that department are sophomores Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper, both with playing time in 2015, largely the result of injuries ahead of them on the roster. Bowen ended the year with a modest 18 tackles with Cooper at 14 and a start in Penn State's bowl loss to Georgia.

But playing time as a last resort isn't the same thing as playing time at a high level, that comes with practice.

"We're very pleased with Manny," Franklin said on Tuesday. "He just continues to grow in every aspect of his life. Obviously with this question specific to football, I think his role is going to continue to grow as the season goes on and specifically this week.

"But Coop's another guy that continues to grow. I think Manny will have a more significant role, but Coop continues to grow for us as well. I think the other thing that's going to be interesting are some decisions that we're going to have to make on Cam Brown. He's one of the guys I told you in the past was in a yellow category and make some decisions on him of what his future's going to look like this year, whether we're going to play them on special teams and start to create some more depth at linebacker."

"Then, again, our money package and playing Koa Farmer and in that nickel field linebacker position as well. So we need to continue to work at that. We need to continue to develop that. That's going to be really important. Then, obviously with Cabinda, and Nyeem, and Brandon Bell's leadership, that's been really positive for us. So I think you're going to continue to see Nyeem get better, and better and better the more live reps he gets because his confidence continues to sore."

The question now is simply how long Penn State has. Someone will almost inevitably pick up an knock or an injury that will in the very least require depth to come into play as the season goes along. If Penn State can get Bowen and Cooper up to speed in time fans may never notice the difference.

But like Schwan and Givens reminded everyone on Saturday, sometimes you can't plan these things out.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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