Is Linebacker U thin in 2022? What's in the pipeline?
Penn State entered the 2021 football season feeling good about the linebacker group.
Entering last season, Penn State’s Depth Chart at the linebacker position looked like the following:
- Curtis Jacobs
- Charlie Katshir
- Jonathan Sutherland
- Ellis Brooks
- Jesse Luketa
- Brandon Smith
- Tyler Elsdon
- Jamari Buddin
- Kobe King
The 2022 Penn State linebacking group will be missing three key departures: Jesse Luketa, Brandon Smith, and Ellis Brooks.
The 2021 Penn State Defense enjoyed the flexibility Jesse Luketa provided as he played in the MIKE, WILL, SAM, EDGE positions for the Nittany Lions that gained the attention of the Arizona Cardinals who spent a 7th Round Draft Pick on him.
Brandon Smith, who was a 5-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting cycle out of Louisa, VA, benefitted from Micah Parsons COVID opt-out to start early, left early and was a 4th Round Pick for the Carolina Panthers. The 3rdTeam All-Big Ten linebacker in 2021 will be debated amongst Nittany Lions fans if another year of refinement would have garnered him the accolades to be a Day 1 or 2 pick in the NFL Draft.
Ellis Brooks solidified the MIKE linebacker position for Penn State in 2021, he became the 23rd different Penn State linebacker in school history to record 100 tackles in a season, earning him 2nd Team All-Big Ten Coaches list as well as getting signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent.
Current Projected Depth Chart:
- Curtis Jacobs (Starter)
- Charlie Katshir
- Cody Romano
- Bobby Walchak
- Tyler Elsdon (Battle)
- Kobe King (Battle)
- Robbie Dwyer
- Ben Chizmar
- Jonathan Sutherland (Starter)
- Dominic DeLuca
- Jamari Budddin
Incoming True Freshmen who most likely will Red Shirt:
- Abdul Carter
- Keon Wylie
Penn State Head Coach James Franklin has truly given first-year Defensive Coordinator and Inside Linebacker Coach Manny Diaz and Special Teams Coordinator and Outside Linebacker Coach Stacy Collins a tall task in reloading in 2022.
The safest body in the depth chart is Curtis Jacobs being a second-year WILL starter for the Nittany Lions.
Jacobs, who received Media Honorable Mention for the All-Big Ten Defensive Team, will be asked to lead a green linebacker group and help lead in preparedness.
Per Audrey Snyder of The Athletic, Jacobs said of Manny Diaz that he has been heavy on teaching and preparedness. Emphasizing on communications and all pre-snap reads.
Teaming with Jacobs in leading this linebacker group is sixth-season versatile athlete Jonathan Sutherland.
Sutherland has been a real Swiss Army knife for the Nittany Lions in his previous 5 seasons at Penn State. He has been a special teams ace for the Nittany Lions, he spent time in the secondary last year up to the bowl game when called upon to play linebacker in the Outback Bowl versus the Arkansas Razorbacks.
While knowledge and experience will hopefully aid Sutherland at a new position as the SAM, Penn State is hoping that a MIKE will sort itself out in summer as Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Elsdon and Redshirt Freshman Kobe King battle for the job.
Everyone surrounding the Nittany Lions have been mum who has the upper hand and there isn’t even a consensus amongst every Penn State prognosticator or football analysts who will have this job.
With an experienced defensive line and secondary with elite athletes supporting a green linebacker group, it will all hinge on 3 things:
#2 How does Jonathan Sutherland play at the SAM?
#3 How the winner of the King/Elsdon battle performs in the MIKE
Penn State will see two summer enrollees from the Class of 2022 who should provide some future impact.
Keon Wylie, who was rated 4-stars from Imhotep in Philadelphia, PA, has been in talks with Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz and Penn State Football Analyst Dan Connor per Daniel Gallen from PennLive.
Per the Gallen article – Wylie is motivated and wants to play early, and the staff is investing time to get him acclimated to the Penn State Defense. Wylie will finish his high school career on May 30 in the Big 33 Football Classic at Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, PA.
Abdul Carter, who was rated 4-stars from La Salle in Philadelphia, PA, is one new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz is excited about. When asked by The Athletic’s Audrey Snyder who was the subject of the first film Diaz broke down, he replied Abdul Carter.
Carter who is seen as a future SAM in the same vein as Micah Parsons and Brandon Smith, he is seeking to make an impact early and potentially unseat Jonathan Sutherland.
LaSalle High School coach John Steinmetz quoted for GoPSUSports, “Abdul is one of the most athletic players I have had a chance to work with. He has incredible closing speed. He has a very high football IQ and understands the game very well. As a four-year starter for us, he could make plays from sideline to sideline. He can rush the passer or drop back and cover the middle of the field.”
Class of 2023 Recruiting
Penn State has yet to receive a commitment as of this writing in the Class of 2023 recruiting cycle.
They do have some targets:
Ta’Mere Robinson – OLB, Brashear High School – Pittsburgh, PA (4-stars) – Robinson has been crystal balled by the prognosticators to be a consensus pick for Penn State. The 6’3” 220 lb. linebacker is one of the top prospects in Pennsylvania.
Tony Rojas – OLB, Fairfax High School – Fairfax, VA (4-stars) Penn State is looking to continue its pipeline into the state of Virginia by bringing the #2 prospect in the state to Happy Valley. The 247Sports crystal ball is showing Penn State across the board.
Phil Picciotti – ILB, Pennridge Upper – Perkasie, PA (4-stars) – The #5 prospect in Pennsylvania was a long time Penn State lock, but Penn State has fallen out of favor with the prospect and has been favoring Oklahoma in recent weeks, but also has official visits scheduled at Nebraska, Michigan, and Auburn in the coming weeks.
Semaj Bridgeman – ILB, Imhotep – Philadelphia, PA (4-stars) – In recent weeks Penn State seems to have some momentum with Bridgeman. Penn State’s connection to Imhotep includes incoming freshman Keon Wylie. This one will be a tough battle with Rutgers, as Bridgeman has visited each school 6 times.