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Spring Football Top Performers: Defensive line

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2017 Spring Practice Central

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week two of Penn State spring practice is already underway with four of 14 practices already in the books. Throughout the next four weeks, go position by position with the Penn State staff highlighting top performers leading up to the annual Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium.

In the second release, catch up with Penn State run game coordinator and defensive line coach Sean Spencer for a closer look at the Nittany Lion defensive line.

No stranger to departures along the defensive line, Spencer will look to replace a pair of defensive ends with departures from senior Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels, who opted for forgo his final year of eligibility to declare for the NFL Draft. That's not an unfamiliar scenario for the Nittany Lions, as jut as early as 2015, Penn State also saw as many as four defensive lineman NFL hopefuls leaving openings behind. For Spencer though, Penn State's task not rebuilding, but rather reloading.

Penn State has a variety of options when it comes to reloading too, and among top performers right now, Spencer first mentioned defensive end Shareef Miller.

"It started in winter workouts and he's becoming a leader in that room and running to the ball, doing things and working hard," Spencer said. "He's a big effort guy and he has always been that way since he's been here and he has really taken his game up to the next level."

One of 27 freshmen to appear in 2016, Miller played in 14 games, tallying 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, including his first career in his collegiate debut against Kent State.

Spencer also noted that defensive end Shaka Toney has also shown a lot in the pass rush game, with defensive tackle Curtis Cothran coming in as pleasant surprise on the inside.

"Very, very natural pass rusher," Spencer said, referring to Toney. "Of course we like to get at the quarterbacks so having a guy like that who can be that explosive off the edge, I think is really helpful for us right now."

Cothran played in 10 games, making eight starts for the Nittany Lions in 2016, totaling 4.5 tackles for loss, highlighted by a career-high five tackles in the Big Ten Championship game, including a key stop on Wisconsin's first drive of the third quarter to force a field goal that the Badgers missed. The rest is history. 

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

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