State’s Spencer Tackles Recruiting And More

Defensive line coach talks about what Penn State looks for at the position and gives updates on the young DTs in the program.

As well as James Franklin and his staff have recruited since arriving on campus in January of 2014, there is one position where they've not quite been able to meet their needs.

Defensive tackle.

In Franklin's first two classes, the Nittany Lions signed a total of three natural defensive tackles. And one of them was Class of 2014 junior college transfer Tarow Barney, who will be exhausting his eligibility this year.

“Defensive tackle, for a number of reasons, we missed on a few guys that we thought we were going to be able to secure,” Franklin said on PSU's recent Coaches Caravan.

As of this writing, Penn State had 10 commitments for its Class of 2016. But the Lions had yet to land a defensive tackle.

“It's something we have to address,” defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. “… Defensive tackle is a position we're gonna look to fill. We're gonna bring in multiple kids this year for the defensive tackle position.

“The hand you were dealt is what you were dealt,” he added. “So we'll work through that.”

The hand in question is revealed upon inspection of Penn State's roster. It features only three current scholarship defensive tackles who were part of the team when Franklin and company arrived. That includes senior Anthony Zettel, redshirt junior Austin Johnson and redshirt sophomore Parker Cothren.

Zettel and Barney are both in their final years of eligibility. Even if he stays for his senior season (and PSU is surely hoping he will), Johnson will never play alongside the DTs who sign for the Class of 2016.

So -- barring position changes -- the only current possible long-term answers at defensive tackle are Cothren, redshirt freshman Antoine White and incoming freshman Robert Windsor.

Spencer is not allowed to talk about specific recruiting targets. But the Nittany Lions do have scholarship offers out to a least a dozen defensive tackle prospects who also have some interest in them.

According to Spencer, the No. 1 quality the staff looks for in a defensive tackle prospect is that he wants to be at Penn State. From there, it gets more technical.

“For me really it's hands and feet,” Spencer said. “I want a guy who can run and has a motor. If you look at our defense, we're not a stagnant defense, we don't sit there and read off blocks. Those guys are penetrating guys, dropping in coverage.

“I want those guys twisting and moving,” he added. “So that type of D-tackle is really what we're looking for.”

To Spencer, those qualities are more important than sheer size, because they make bigger tackles like the 324-pound Johnson or smaller tackles like the 280-pound Zettel better.

“A.J. is an exception, because A.J. can do all of this at that size,” Spencer said. “Then it's special. But you can see, a guy like Anthony Zettel, in this defense at 280 pounds, can be first-team All-Conference and a potential All-American.”


Of the players mentioned earlier in this piece, fans have had a chance to see Zettel, Johnson, Barney and Cothren in game action. Spencer gave an off-season update on White (who is nicknamed “Salt”) and Windsor (who will arrive for PSU's second summer semester).

WHITE: “Salt will work into the mix. We've got to continue to work on some things with him, just learning the game of football. That guy's got all the ability in the world. He's as twitched up as Zettel and he's as strong as A.J., so it's a combination of both. There'll be a time when he's gonna get on the field. I played five D-tackles last year. So I'm very confident that if I put him in the game, he can have success.”

WINDSOR: “We signed Robert Windsor this year, who I think is a steal for us. I mean, 6-foot-4, 285 pounds, plays with a great deal of malice in his heart. That guy's gonna be a tremendous football player.”

So what does playing “with malice” mean? “It's just that aggressiveness to the point of attack. What does he do after the play is over? Does he shake the guy's hand? Does he get up and snap his body up and prepare for the next play? That's the type of guy he is. I'm so excited and happy about that guy being part of our program.”

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