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Looking forward: Defensive line

With the 2012 season in the books, Lions247 will take a look at each of Penn State's position groupings, breaking down both how the Nittany Lions fared at that position this past season and what the future holds. Today we check out a defensive line group that will lose a big chunk of its core.

Penn State will build its 2013 defensive line around defensive end Deion Barnes.

2012 roundup: A veteran group of linemen -- plus a dynamic freshman -- battled various injuries but was productive throughout the season. Jordan Hill led the way from the three-technique tackle position, and the attention he commanded made life easier on the rest of the line and Penn State's linebackers. Senior defensive ends Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro didn't have jaw-dropping seasons but were both fundamentally sound against the run and got decent pressure on the passer. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes wasted little time getting after the quarterback and made plenty of big plays against the run, too. Larry Johnson's rotation wasn't as deep this season as it has been in past years but the Nittany Lions got (and needed) contributions from players like James Terry, Kyle Baublitz, Anthony Zettel and C.J. Olaniyan.

Departures: Hill (64 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Stanley (35-9.5-4), Massaro (8-1-0.5), Terry (13-1-1), Cody Castor

Hill was a defensive captain and arguably the team's best player. No one on the line was as dynamic. Stanley improved his play against the run and had moments as a pass rusher. Terry missed time with an injury down the stretch but filled in solidly for Hill or Jones when called upon. Massaro battled back from a series of injuries to play in nine games in his final season.

Returnees: Barnes (26-10-6), Jones (22-2-0.5), Olaniyan (15-1-1), Baublitz (3-1-1), Zettel (15-4-4) Brad Bars, Jordan Kerner#, Austin Johnson*, Derek Dowrey*, Evan Schwan*, Brian Gaia*

*-redshirted
#-out with injury

Newcomers: Garrett Sickels, Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren

Sickels and Cothran both committed this spring and have stayed with the program through the sanctions. Cothren switched his commitment from Purdue to Penn State last month. All three prospects, who will most likely wind up as defensive ends, have good size and potential and, depending on how the rest of the rotation shakes out, could be candidates to see action in 2013.

Skinny: Graduation hits Penn State's defensive line harder than any position, taking away four players who made a combined 28 starts this season. Johnson and the Lions are left with plenty of talent but little of it is proven. Barnes should flourish as a full-time starter but he'll also get plenty of extra attention, at least until a few of the other linemen can prove themselves as threats. Zettel was a monster in garbage time this season and he, Olaniyan, Bars and Kerner, who missed the season with a back injury, should provide Johnson with plenty of options at end. The big question marks will be in the middle. Jones will be back at one starter but after that it's Baublitz, who only began playing tackle this season and three redshirt freshmen (Johnson, Dowrey and Gaia). They'll need to blossom quickly if the Nittany Lions are going to be able to employ their usual eight or nine-man rotation and keep what will already be a green group of starters fresh.

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