Today, we dive head first into a position that is as synonymous to Penn State Football as the "We Are" cheer we so proudly chant. The likes of Ham, Buttle, Arrington, Poz, Lee, and Mauti are just a few of the names that have helped build our national reputation. Of course, we're talking linebackers here folks, and in 2015 I'm here to tell ya, Linebacker U is alive and well. Without further ado....
ONE HULL OF A YEAR
Last year’s defense proved to be one of the stingiest and most unforgiving in all of college football. Without a doubt, the unquestioned leader of that crew was the now-graduated Mike Hull. From his middle linebacker (or Mike as it's called) position, Mr. Hull was a one-man wrecking crew game, after game, after game. He led the Big Ten in tackles and won the conferences coveted Defensive Player of the Year award, and earned every bit of it in doing so.
For reasons still unknown and rather baffling to most of us, Hull never had his name called during April's NFL Draft. Immediately after, he got a free-agent call from the Miami Dolphins and has spent his time since doing what he does best, making plays and playing a brand of hardnosed football that we all saw over the past 4 years.
WE DONT REBUILD, WE RELOAD
Despite the loss of last year’s leader, the Penn State linebacker unit heads into 2015 as one of the teams strengths. The Nittany Lions do not rebuild their linebacking corps, they simply reload and this year is no different than any other.
Slated to fill Hull's shoes in the middle is Nyeem Wartman-White. Wartman-White, a junior, has made life hell for opponents on the outside over the past two seasons and is expected to be able to make the move inside with relative ease. He had an outstanding season in 2014 and should only get better as the new signal-caller on the defensive side of the ball.
Brandon Bell, another returning starter, is back to wreak havoc from his outside linebacker spot. Also a junior, Bell took over that spot late during his freshman year in 2013 and paid immediate dividends to a defense that was struggling at the time. He was as crucial to the overall success of last year’s defense and has improved with every game played.
Perhaps the player who has turned most heads during the offseason has been sophomore Jason Cabinda. Cabinda is expected to take over Wartman-White's empty slot opposite Bell at outside linebacker. Cabinda gained valuable experience as a freshman and got better as the year rolled along. Known already as a kid who can, "lay the wood," I expect Jason Cabinda to be one of our breakout players in 2015.
Waiting in the wings is a group full of depth and potential. Former walk-on Von Walker, Gary Wooten, and redshirt freshman Troy Reeder are all penciled in as the backups. Senior Ben Kline, is back after an Achilles tear in the preseason of 2014. When healthy, Kline has proven his worth on the field and looks to end his career in Blue and White on a high note.
Expect both Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper, linebacker commits from the Class of 2015 to redshirt this year. Both highly ranked, their future at Penn State lies down the road, unless injuries become a major issue.
LBU ALIVE AND WELL
Entering the 2014 season, linebacker was one of the team’s biggest concerns. Lack of depth was a major issue that thankfully never really needed to be addressed. A year later, Penn State is once again stacked at the position. Although still relatively young, Kline being the lone senior, the 2015 linebacker corps has a ton of big game experience across the board.
Linebacker Coach Brent Pry, an Altoona native, immediately set the tone by bringing with him the mentality that Penn State linebackers are a cut above the rest. Our LB's play fast, play smart, and bring a big stick when they hit. After a down year in 2013 we have come a long way and have squashed any doubt that we lost our grip as Linebacker U. The hold on that title is as strong as ever as we head towards 2015. LBU is alive and well, wears Blue and White, and will hit you like a ton of bricks beginning on September 5th!