NITTANY NOTES: Six Pack (Defense)

With spring practice here, FOS went to program observers to see which defensive players they are keeping an eye on as drills progress. Here are the top six.

With spring practice here, we thought it would be interesting to get a gauge of which up-and-comers impressed in the winter conditioning period and early in drills.

Here are six defensive players observers have on their list:

Deion Barnes, DE: At 248 pounds, Barnes added about 15 pounds during his redshirt year and has "really tackled the weights." He has better body control and "an intensity" off the line.

With Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford departed from the program, the PSU staff is in search of depth at DE. Though he's lacking in experience, Barnes is viewed as part of the answer to that problem.

"The big thing is nailing down his rush technique so it's second nature," one observer said. "He's got the size and strength, and decent footwork. [He has to] just pull it all together, which is what [position coach Larry Johnson] will be focusing on."

Working in Barnes is favor is that, outside of veterans Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro, none of the other projected backups has significantly more experience than he does. Redshirt sophomores Kyle Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan saw limited playing time last fall.

Impact Potential: High

Mike Hull, LB: Hull saw action in all 13 games in 2011, making 18 tackles. But the 6-0, 213-pounder did most of that damage on special teams.

Penn State has veterans like Gerald Hodges, Khairi Fortt and Glenn Carson expected to lead the charge for the linebacker unit. And Mike Mauti is at practice every day, even as he recovers from an ACL injury.

But Hull is an intriguing player to many observers.

With a nose for the ball, Hull's attitude, drive and mid-4.4 range 40 speed are all positives.

He has increased his strength and continues to work on improving his reaction skills. It's likely to be a challenge for him to displace an experienced veteran as a starter. However, position coach Ron Vanderlinden is looking to build depth in the spring. And with his combination of hard hits and good speed, Hull is a strong bet to land a spot on the two-deep.

Potential Impact: Medium

Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, S: The redshirt junior played backup to Drew Astorino last season. He saw action in 10 games and made 11 tackles. However, Obeng-Agyapong is still a bit of an unknown in a unit that needs to find depth with the departures of Astorino and Nick Sukay, who combined for 25 starts at safety last year.

Obeng-Agyapong "can get off the blocks quickly" and is solid in run support. But he can get better in that area — and in coverage — by improving his reads this spring.

"He has to break on the ball better," an observer said.

Potential Impact: High

C.J. Olaniyan, DE: The 6-3, 250-pound redshirt sophomore saw limited action in 2011, earning snaps in six games and making three solo stops on the year.

With a good physique, Olaniyan has focused on his technique off the edge as well as his ability to shed blocks and pressure the pocket. "Physically he has the tools. He just needs to get comfortable with the mental side of things," an observer said.

Barring injury or off-field problems, Stanley is a lock to start at one end spot. And if Massaro is healthy — and he seems to be — he'll be the man at the other spot. New coach Bill O'Brien has already raved publicly about Massaro (see below).

But Johnson likes to rotate four and even five defensive ends. So Olaniyan will have ample opportunity to make an impact.

Potential Impact: High

Anthony Zettel, DT: Johnson has never been afraid to throw young players into the fray at defensive tackle, even if they are a bit undersized. So expect to start hearing good things about Zettel, a 6-5, 255 pounder.

Said to have a "great motor," Zettel has embraced the training techniques of new strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and is starting to add strength and size.

With Evan Hailes' status in question, the staff is depending on Zettel to emerge as a reliable backup.

Potential Impact: Medium

Pete Massaro, DE: OK, saw Massaro is not exactly a new face. He has already graduated and has senior eligibility. But he missed all of last season with a left ACL injury sustained in the spring of 2011, the second ACL tear of his career.

Massaro appears to be healthy again this spring.

In 2010, Massaro saw action in all 13 games and quickly moved into a starting position by the third game of the season. On the year he had 37 tackles (20 solo), 3.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Even from what little he has seen of Massaro, O'Brien has already been very impressed.

"He's going to be hard to block," O'Brien said.

Potential Impact: Extremely High is your source for the BEST content and community covering Penn State football.


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