Penn State Redshirt Report: Defense

We break down the Nittany Lions freshmen who sat out last season. Where do they stand as spring practice is set to kick off?

Welcome to the annual FOS Penn State Redshirt Reports. We began with the offense last week, and continue with the defense now.

DE Curtis Cothran

Though athletic for his size, Cothran was not as physically prepared to play as a true freshman as fellow rookie defensive end Garrett Sickels (see below), so redshirting was in the cards from the start. It paid off, as he was able to add size (he now goes 6-foot-5, 240-plus) and refine his technique (which was said to be “raw” coming in). He still must get bigger and stronger to earn a spot in a deep defensive end rotation -- if you see him in person, he still looks skinny -- but has shown the work ethic and attitude to do just that. The good news is, barring a rash of injuries at D-end, there is no reason for new position coach Sean Spencer to rush Cothran into action.

DT Parker Cothren

Coming into Penn State, there were questions about where Cothren might play -- defensive end or defensive tackle. But during his redshirt year he built himself up to a 6-5, 280-pounder, and now appears to be firmly entrenched at D-tackle. Observers have been particularly impressed by the job Cothren did adding upper body strength. He also showed good fundamentals on the foreign team, and held his own in one-on-one battles with veteran offensive guards like John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach. Cothren is another true freshman the staff considered playing last season, but opted to redshirt so he could add the size and strength. Given graduation losses at the position, expect Cothren to move into the defensive tackle rotation this spring.

S Kasey Gaines

Penn State was in dire need of DBs for the Class of 2013. With the initial sting of NCAA sanctions still being felt in September of 2012, it took a chance by offering Gaines, who had no other major-college offers. The 5-10, 165-pounder showed good “speed and football instincts” on the foreign team last season, but “he still needs to develop for the long term.” A key part of that is getting bigger and stronger so he can fit in at his natural position of safety. But can he do that without losing the speed?

DE Garrett Sickels

The staff considered burning Sickels' redshirt when athletic veteran Brad Bars was injured (Achilles) late last summer. But the development of walk-on Carl Nassib as a dependable backup allowed PSU to hold Sickels out, so he could get stronger. The plan has worked. According to our observers, he now goes 6-4, 250-plus but has maintained the quickness that made him a four-star recruit. The focus this spring will be honing his pass-rushing technique. We're told he has a great attitude, especially when it comes to conditioning, and “has done whatever's been asked of him.” Sickels has the physical ability to be a contributor in 2014. But there is a logjam of talent he must overcome. Senior C.J. Olaniyan is coming off a breakout season and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes is looking to bounce back after a tough sophomore campaign. Meanwhile, Anthony Zettel has been something of a big-play specialist to this point of his career, and Bars is expected to be back full go come August. That does not even take into account Nassib or redshirt sophomore Evan Schawn. Even if Zettel moves to tackle, where he has played in the past, this is still a crowded field.

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