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Penn State Football: Versatility At Linebacker Despite Depth Issues

by on August 05, 2016 12:40 PM

Penn State football, for all of the changes and decades of games that have been played, is objectively one of the best programs when it comes to producing top tier linebackers. Be it Michael Mauti or Shane Conlan, the Nittany Lions have always been anchored by at least one dependable linebacker keeping the defense together as one cohesive unit.

This year, Penn State might have three.

"I told those guys this morning in a meeting we're very fortunate that we have multiple guys in the room that have extensive experience at both spots," Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said of his linebackers working on the inside and outside positions.

"You throw Brandon Bell, Brandon's played sam (weak side), he's played will (strong side). Jake Cooper for a young guy has played a lot at mike (inside) and a lot at will over the course of the fall and spring. I think that there's competition in that room because everybody wants to be the starter, and everybody wants to be the guy."

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And that's currently the challenge Penn State faces. The Nittany Lions return inside linebacker Jason Cabinda who led the team in tackles and took over the inside role following a Week 1 injury to Nyeem Wartman-White. With Wartman-White back in the mix this spring the competition reopened at the middle linebacker spot.

In actuality though, it sounds more like everyone will play on the inside, even Bell, who will take snaps there during training camp.

"We've got the versatility," Pry added. "Those guys are going to roll through multiple spots through camp. They're in a place that we can do that with them. We're going to train Manny Bowen some at the will linebacker. He's been strictly a sam to this point. Brandon Bell's going to play some at mike linebacker. We're going to roll those guys through."

Penn State will need to find depth this fall in order to truly keep offenses on their toes and players fresh. Bell, Cabinda and Wartman-White have the ability to create a very strong unit, but being able to roll out a second unit nearly as good will ultimately be the key to long-term success this season. Bowen and Cooper both ought to be early candidates to do just that.

"We've got some experience and some maturity in the room that we feel like even though potentially the numbers aren't there, the versatility allows us to create the depth we need," Pry said. "We've got some sub packages that allow us to do that. So we feel really good about it. Jason's an outstanding leader, and he's got great command of the defense."



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