Today we continue our 12 for 2012 series. The list won't necessarily cover the 12 best players on the squad, but those whose production and presence on and off the field will be needed the most if the Nittany Lions are to have the kind of success they're looking for this season.
No. 2 -- Jordan Hill
Rewind: Hill led Steelton-Highspire to back-to-back Pennsylvania Class A state championships and an undefeated record his senior season. He broke into Penn State's lineup during the sixth game of his freshman season in 2009 and by the following season was a regular member of Larry Johnson's rotation. Last season, he thrived playing alongside Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still, finishing with four more tackles (59) than Still to go with eight tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. Unquestionably the leader of Penn State's defensive line, Hill dropped nearly 10 pounds since the end of the last season and moved from the one-technique to the three-technique spot.
The Take: Many expect junior DaQuan Jones to have a big year on the inside. Kyle Baublitz has handled his move from end to tackle well, James Terry has proven to be a solid role player and true freshmen Austin Johnson and Derek Dowrey have showed potential during the summer. But make no mistake -- the play of Penn State's defensive tackles, and arguably the defensive line as a whole, starts and finishes with Hill. His ability to command double-teams and get into the backfield will make it very difficult for opponents to run the ball, and his focus on getting lighter and quicker should improve his already solid pass-rushing skills. The next in a long line of Penn State defensive linemen who will go on to play on Sundays, Hill will be counted on to lead a group of tackles that won't enjoy its usual depth this season.
The Forecast: New coordinator Ted Roof has put his own stamp on the defense and will bring pressure from a variety of angles. A player like Hill, though, gives him the luxury of not having to blitz to generate pressure from the middle of the line. Hill said during the spring that his goal was to improve his conditioning so that he would be able to be on the field for more snaps (he logged 774 in 13 games last season, ninth-most on the team). Motivated to provide for his family, to maintain the tradition of his program and to prove himself to critics, Hill should be more than productive during his final season. And his presence should make the rest of Penn State's defensive linemen even better.