Preseason camp will, as always, include some key position battles, but Penn State's depth chart has already taken an approximate shape. We're breaking down every spot on the field and who stands where heading into August.
Wartman will battle Ben Kline for the open spot in camp this summer.
Today, we take a look at what is likely the thinnest unit on the field for the Nittany Lions this fall.
Official Post-Spring Depth Chart
5 Nyeem Wartman (6-1, 240, So/Fr)
30 Charles Idemudia (5-11, 235, So/Fr)
Who everyone is talking about: Mike Hull
His role as the third linebacker in Penn State's "Roadrunner" package, his time in relief of an injured Michael Mauti and his knack for making big special teams plays have given Nittany Lion fans a pretty good idea of what Hull is capable of, but the coming season will give him the chance to shine in a featured role for the first time. Though we didn't see much of him in the Blue-White Game (the coaches wisely wanted to lessen the risk of injury given the depth issues at the position), Hull showed few signs during the spring that he's ready to be one of the top playmakers on the Penn State defense.
Rice: Who I'm looking at: Ben Kline
Nyeem Wartman appears to have the inside track on the starting weakside spot, but Kline, who sat out of contract drills this spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, isn't going to hand it to him. The redshirt sophomore is expected to be ready to go in August, though, and has more playing experience than any of the Penn State linebackers but Hull and Glenn Carson. Buried behind the likes of Mauti and Gerald Hodges for the early part of his career, Kline knows he has a terrific opportunity this season and the battle between him and Wartman should be one of the more interesting ones to follow during the preseason.
Fitz: Who I'm looking at: Nyeem Wartman
I’ll agree with Rice on this one. Wartman should end up in that third starting slot after taking those reps in the spring. How much he plays will depend on his ability to pick up his drops and be smart in space. Wartman has gotten by to this point relying on his athletic ability, which is fine to an extent. He won’t be able to do that as a full-time starter, if that is the role he lands in. Wartman seems to be back to full-strength after a knee injury cost him most of last season, but a redshirt year is probably best for both he and the team. It should be fun to watch he and Kline go at it for the third slot. As we know with Ron Vanderlinden, the winner won’t be the guy who makes the most great plays, it will be the guy who can minimize the mistakes.
Newcomer to watch: Brandon Bell
You could almost call Wartman, who saw action in just two games before a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the season, a newcomer as well, but Bell should have a chance to not only see some time on special teams during his rookie season but make an impact on the two-deep as well. The New Jersey product loves contact and, though he'll need some polishing from the technically minded Ron Vanderlinden, has the skill set to contribute early if the Nittany Lions need him to.
On the horizon
The outlook at the position has certainly changed in the last seven months. In December, Penn State was sitting with commitments from Brandon Bell, Jonathan Walton and Zayd Issah, now only Bell has enrolled at Penn State in June. The Nittany Lions have commitments from two linebackers in the Class of 2014 in inside guy Troy Reeder and outside/hybrid Jared Wangler, both solid pickups. Issah remains an option to return to the program after some time at prep school, but those numbers would look a lot better if the Nittany Lions were able to add some scholarship bodies to the mix for this fall.
2013 expectations: Those concerned about a couple of timely injuries putting the linebacking corps in serious jeopardy have a right to be concerned, but remember that only four linebackers (Mauti, Hodges, Carson and Hull) saw the overwhelming majority of snaps last season. Carson has been one of the squad's most underrated players for years and both he and Hull should be reliable veterans. If Wartman or Kline pan out at the third spot and the young defensive linemen can keep blockers off of them, Penn State's linebackers should be able to replace most of Hodges' and Mauti's production, if not their playmaking and leadership.
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