Andy’s Insights: Wealth of riches at the linebacker position

Andys Insights

With the emergence of Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa, Penn State has five bona-fide Big Ten starting LB’s

As Penn State gets ready to face a banged up and struggling Purdue outfit Saturday at Beaver Stadium for the 100th homecoming, my radar early this week is focused on the defense.

Maryland is not a team lacking in speed at the skill positions at all. Yet when I watched the play-by-play version of the game (I highly recommend this for you hardcore football fans), the Terrapins looked slow compared to the speed Penn State’s defense played.

I know they are fast and aggressive. That was the first game where I thought it might be neutralized a bit by the opposition. It was exactly the opposite. Of the four games the Nittany Lions have played this year, last Friday the Penn State defense looked faster overall.

Heading into the Purdue game the Penn State defense – a highly touted and talked up unit prior to the season – is No. 2 nationally in scoring, No. 7 against the rush, 31st against the pass and the No. 11 overall defense in the country right now.

That’s living up to expectations. Even the pass rush that was maligned a bit during the bye week was better. Did you know despite what Penn State fans see as a struggling unit up front, the Nittany Lions are still tied for 14th nationally in sacks.

Just a quick note on the scoring defense … Penn State is ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Wisconsin. Did you know that Iowa and Ohio State check in at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, to give the Big Ten the top four scoring defenses in all of college football.

What stood out to me at the beginning of the season about this defense and is even more prominent after 16 quarters is the linebacker group.

So when star Micah Parsons was ejected for targeting early in the first quarter against Maryland it provided an excellent window into the real depth of this unit.

Jesse Luketa, a sophomore originally from Ottawa, Ontario in Canada, stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. To my trained eye it looked like Luketa has been playing on a regular basis all season.

Ellis Brooks has been the real surprise this season. The junior from Virginia has made it almost impossible for defensive coordinator Brent Pry to keep him off the field. Brooks and starting MLB Jan Johnson are time sharing those snaps on an equal basis.

In order for that to happen Brooks had to get a lot better and he had to earn the trust of the coaching staff because Johnson already had that full trust. And Brooks has done both.

Cam Brown is going to play in the NFL. That’s crystal clear after the way he finished 2018 and what he’s showing so far in 2019.

At this point is appears true freshman Lance Dixon, who is part of the future at this position, will be redshirted unless injuries arise. He was playing on the kickoff team and he’s perfect for that role. But if Jordan Stout is going to kick everything for a touchback there’s no sense burning his redshirt running up and down the field for no reason.

And I know Penn State fans want to see super stud freshman Brandon Smith on the field. Who doesn’t, right? Right now, barring a couple major injuries, there’s no room at the inn for him to log consistent snaps.

Parsons, Brown, Johnson, Brooks and Luketa. By my count that is five bona-fide starting Big Ten linebackers on one team.

Yes, Penn State is known at Linebacker U. But this much talent and depth I think they needs a Linebackers U chain for former Nittany Lions QB turned grad assistant coach Jake Zembiec, the official keeper of the chains, to wear on the sidelines.