Spring Practice Central
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions held their seventh practice of the spring season on Wednesday afternoon. Throughout spring practice, GoPSUsports.com will break down each position on the depth chart. Today, we focus on the defensive line.
The Defensive Line
Players Returning-Newcomers/Lost: 13/6
Who's Back: Torrence Brown (Jr./So.), Ryan Buchholz (So./Fr.), Kam Carter (So./Fr.), Colin Castagna (So./So.), Curtis Cothran (Sr./Jr.), Parker Cothren (Sr./Jr.), Kevin Givens (So./Fr.), Shareef Miller (So./Fr.), Ryan Monk (So./Fr.), Evan Schwan (Sr./Sr.), Garrett Sickels (Sr./Jr.), Antoine White (Jr./So.), Robert Windsor (So./Fr.)
The Penn State defensive line will have big shoes to fill in 2016. Replacing the production of Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel is no small task. The trio of future NFL prospects accounted for 45.5 of Penn State's 106 tackles for loss and 26 of the team's 46 sacks in 2015.
But coach Sean Spencer and a young group of talented Nittany Lions are up for the challenge and are already laying the groundwork for a productive 2016 season along the d-line.
Beginning on the outside, senior Evan Schwan, junior Garrett Sickels and sophomore Torrence Brown return as the most experienced defensive ends. Schwan is the lone senior on the defensive line and will be looked upon as a leader of the group in 2016. The Harrisburg product has appeared in 30 career games. In an increased role, Schwan made 21 tackles last season for the Nittany Lions and is primed for a much bigger impact in 2016.
Sickels played the best football of his Nittany Lion career at the end position opposite Nassib last season. The New Jersey native was quietly one of the more productive players on the Penn State defense last fall. A starter in 12 games, Sickels made 35 tackles, tallied 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, in addition to recovering two fumbles and forcing one fumble. In total, he has appeared in 25 of Penn State's last 26 games and will bring a great deal of leadership and productivity to the defensive line again in 2016.
One of 17 redshirt freshmen to play in 2015, Brown is on the cusp of becoming a breakout player for the Nittany Lions. Brown tallied 11 total tackles, including 5.5 hits for a loss and 1.5 sacks in his first season on the game field for the Lion defense. Hailing from Alabama, Brown's productivity will likely increase as he spends more time on the field for the Lions at defensive end.
A trio of young players will add depth to the defensive end position in 2016. Sophomore Colin Castagna and freshmen Ryan Buchholz and Shareef Miller all made big strides during the winter and are primed to be key figures in the defensive end rotation in the fall.
Shifting to the interior of the defensive line, there is great opportunity for a host of young players to emerge as the primary playmakers at defensive tackle. With Johnson and Zettel graduated and prepping for the NFL Draft, the door is open for leaders to emerge this spring.
Redshirt junior Parker Cothren, redshirt junior Curtis Cothran, who is shifting inside from defensive end and redshirt sophomore Antoine White return as the most experienced players. At 6-4, 302 pounds, Cothren is poised to be at the heart of the Nittany Lion d-line. Appearing in all 26 games during the past two seasons, Cothren has made 24 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and one sack in his time on the field. The junior is ready to take on a much bigger role for the Lion defense in 2016.
Cothran has found a home at defensive tackle after spending his first two seasons on campus at defensive end. He made a career-high 16 tackles and appeared in all 13 games last season. White played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2015, tallying 12 stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack in the first action of his career. Both Cothran and White will be counted on for leadership and production when the Lions take the field in September.
One of the bright spots during spring practice thus far has been the emergence of redshirt freshmen Kevin Givens, Ryan Monk and Robert Windsor. All three players made significant gains in the weight room. Keep an eye out for the trio of young talent as the Lions continue to evolve at the interior of the defensive line.
Pound for pound, the defensive line unit is likely the strongest on the team. Castagna led the squad in winter testing on the bench with a max out of 465 pounds. Givens (410) and Monk also benched more than 400 pounds. Castangna was second in the power clean at 365 pounds, while Windsor power cleaned 360. Givens set a team-high with a 635-pound squat, while White finished at 600 pounds.
The Nittany Lion defensive line practices with great intensity every single day. That comes from Coach Spencer, who sets the bar high when it comes to effort and attitude. The young, yet talented corps of D-lineman is eager to learn. The group has high expectations for the 2016 season, but the defensive line knows it has work to do.
Quoting Coach Spencer:
"I think Garrett (Sickels) and Evan (Schwan) are the leaders of this group because they've played a lot of football. And quietly coming on is Torrence (Brown). Those three guys are doing a very nice job. I would say collectively, these guys are eager and ready. They are eager. They want to be great. But there is a price to pay to be great. We aren't there yet. It's a process to put in the work ethic to be like the guys who were before them. It's just a process, and these guys are eager."
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