STATE COLLEGE — Few positional groups have been hit with injuries as badly as the Nittany Lions defensive line last year.
After losing a pair of talented linebackers Shaka Toney (Washington Football Team) and Odafe Oveha (Baltimore Ravens) in the NFL Draft last April, Penn State used the transfer portal to make up for the loss of talent.
The program added defenseman Derrick Tangelo and defenseman Arnold Abiketi to fill in some of the gaps, and the rest were expected to be handled by young but talented linemen.
Penn State’s skirmish with bad news for the division began a month before the season opener, when coach James Franklin announced that defenseman Adis Isaac would likely not play in 2021 due to an injury.
In October, the division suffered another blow when quarterback and team captain PJ Mastifer ended his season prematurely due to an injury in Iowa in October.
The Nittany Lions ended the season allowing 361 rushing yards for Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, the second most allowed by the team during the season. Penn State played without Abiketi and Tangelo as the pair withdrew from the postseason competition.
While Penn State will once again have to replace talented pieces in Ebiketie — the All-Big Ten first-team pick — and Tangelo, he brings back enough defensive talent to remain formidable.
For starters, Mastifer announced earlier this month that he will be returning for a fifth season in 2022. Penn State’s defensive line suffered noticeably during his absence, but his injury allowed for defensive tackles from D’Von Ellis (redshirt sophomore) and Goat Izzard (redshirt). freshman) to gain valuable playing time that will come in handy next season. Izzard and Ellis in playing time in 13 games last season.
Sophomore Jordan van den Berg played extensively in the Outback Bowl, tallying three tackles in his third game of the year.
The Nittany Lions should also have defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon (a sophomore in the red shirt) available in position after being unavailable for most of 2021.
Penn State had a solid defensive game last season and this trend is expected to continue in 2022.
A healthy Isaac will make a key contribution to this position.
The Outback Bowl marked the first career start for redshirted sophomore quarterback Smith Wilbert to make the most of the opportunity. Wilbert counted three sacks in the first half to set an Outback Bowl record. Fellow defenseman Nick Tarberton (a junior in the red shirt) played big minutes against Arkansas.
The 2022 season will be the first under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was hired after Brent Pry left for Virginia Tech in November to become the Hawkeyes’ head coach.
ALTON HAYS covers Pennsylvania sports for CNHI. Email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.