As Penn State prepares to open spring practice on March 26 in Happy Valley, SB Nation Pittsburgh is breaking the roster down by position, taking a look at who the Nittany Lions have lost from last year's lineups, who they'll return and who they've added through the 2012 recruiting class. On the menu for Thursday, linebackers.
Leaving The Roster
When Michael Mauti went down with a torn ACL during Penn State's game against Eastern Michigan last September, Nathan Stupar stepped in and never looked back. The senior racked up 80 tackles, good for third on the team, and added 5.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. His pass defense skills were above average and he got the job done in stopping the run, too. All of this was a real improvement on 2010, when he struggled fitting in to an injury-ravaged rotation. He became a reliable option that Penn State will miss in 2012.
Gerald Hodges became a disruptive force for Penn State in 2011, racking up 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and an interception to go with a team-leading 106 tackles. He was the one linebacker who showed he could regularly be a threat on the pass rush and come up with a big play at any time. He opted to stay is school and not enter the NFL Draft this year, presumably to show that he's not just a good linebacker, but a dominant one. He'll be seeking to hone his raw skills a little more this spring with an eye toward becoming a true game-breaker in the fall.
Glenn Carson had a quiet but effective season in 2011, racking up 74 tackles while plugging a lot of running lanes, though he never quite got home for the big plays. He didn't have a sack or interception and finished with just 1.5 tackles for a loss. With a lot of young talent behind him, he'll have to show he can make a few more big plays this spring to hold onto his starting spot.
The aforementioned Mauti will use the spring to continue to rehab from the second devastating knee injury of his Penn State career. When he's healthy, Mauti is Penn State's most skilled linebacker, but he has to get back to 100 percent to realize his full potential in 2012.
Others Returning, Looking To Step Up
Khairi Fortt came up with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss in backup duty last year. A rising junior, he has all the tools to be a big contributor in the future, and if he has a good spring, that future could be sooner than later. Mike Hull and Mike Yancich could also be in the mix for playing time.
Archbald native Nyeem Wartman was the only linebacker in the 2012 recruiting class, but the new coaching staff likes him a lot. Linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said on signing day that the old regime targeted him early in the process not only for his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, but for his speed that made him a track star at Valley View High School. It'll be interesting to see if he can thrust himself into the mix during fall practice.
If Mauti can recover fully, this unit has the potential to be the backbone of the defense with the secondary and defensive line replacing some key pieces. Hodges and Mauti are borderline dominant and guys like Fortt and Carson have proven they can be effective complements. Spring practice will be an opportunity for these players to feel their way into an elevated collective role.