Now, make no mistake, despite FrankLions continued calls for concern about a linebacker unit that lost two of its three starters from a season ago, I was all prepared to label this year’s version of LINEBACKER-U a simple case of reloading rather than rebuilding, with or without Manny Bowen on the roster. That said, having another experienced senior leader to join Koa Farmer just serves to reinforce and strengthen that opinion. Clearly, Bowen is revered and loved inside that locker room which in and of itself is as valuable as anything he does on the field, especially with a unit as young as this.
Where Bowen fits in is anybody’s guess this early in camp. He cut his teeth on the outside but with both Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith graduating, there is a major void in the middle at Mike linebacker. Given his history and knowledge in Brent Pry’s defense, conventional wisdom would suggest he make the move inside but that’s no given. If not, there are options aplenty thanks to some heavy recruiting over the past few years. Prior to Manny's comeback, a few names were batted around during the off-season and with a weeks worth of camp in the books, redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks and early enrollee Jesse Luketa have done nothing to diminish their potential as they vie to man the middle. Senior Jake Cooper has had a history of nagging injuries but could very well play a factor and one name that has gained some serious momentum as of late is walk-on Jan Johnson who has also moonlighted with Cael’s Army on the wrestling squad. In fact, a few media outlets already have him penciled in as the starter to begin the year although Manny Bowen may have something to say about that.
On the outside, at the Sam and Will positions, The Land Shark and SoCal-native Koa Farmer has one side on lockdown and rising junior Cam Brown is all set to go on the other. The X-Factor in all this could be former 5-star recruit coming out of Harrisburg High, Micah Parsons. Some have dubbed him the next Lavar Arrington because of his athleticism and aggressiveness and by now you all know he wears the famous #11 with the legends blessing. Jarvis Miller is definitely a name to keep an eye on this year and converted wideout Dae'Lun Darien has reportedly made a seamless transition. Brelin Faison-Walden and true freshman Charlie Katsir round out the options.
Preseason prognosticators have labeled this year’s edition of LBU one that is full of question marks. To a degree, I agree. Aside from the three seniors, it’s a linebacker unit chock full of youth, there is no question about it. When you’re faced with having to replace the leadership and experience that Cabinda and Smith brought to the table over the past few years it raises a red flag. Then again, that’s what recruiting is for and FrankLion has proven to be a master at it. Parsons was the highest ranked recruit to commit to Penn State since Derrick Williams in ’05 and Luketa has already brought in the mindset of a seasoned vet, with plenty more yet to come. With Franklin bringing in the talent combined with as fine a defensive mind there is in Brent Pry, this is simply not a case of rebuilding like some have suggested. Add in the feel-good story of Manny Bowen’s comeback and choice to take the road less traveled and what we have here my friends is a case of Reload and Redemption. It may take a game or two for it all to come together but once it does, Big Ten offenses are going to crumble under this unit’s speed as Nittany Lions come crashing in from all directions! Up next, we invade the No-Fly Zone and take a look at a defensive backfield that is secondary to none. Buckle those chinstraps folks, kickoff is right around the corner!