Open Mike: Will Cabinda Move Inside?

With starter Nyeem Wartman-White lost to a season-ending injury, first-team Will LB Jason Cabinda may be asked to handle the Mike position.

Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday that it remains “a possibility” he will take practice repetitions at middle linebacker, but it did not happen when the Nittany Lions gathered for drills Sunday or Tuesday.

“As of right now, I’m just focused on my Will (i.e., weakside linebacker) position,” said Cabinda, who started the season-opening 27-10 loss to Temple at that spot. “A lot of guys are going to take reps (in the middle) – maybe me, maybe (Gary) Wooten as well. As of right now, I’m very focused on that Will position.”

Head coach James Franklin said during his weekly conference call Tuesday that the coaching staff is going to explore its options in the middle this week as it seeks to replace Nyeem Wartman-White, lost for the season to a left-knee injury in the second quarter of the Temple game.

Wartman-White, who according to his Instagram account underwent surgery Tuesday, was injured while playing on the punt team. When asked after the game why Wartman-White was even out there in that situation, Franklin said, “You play your best players in all three phases.”

Temple was limited to 34 yards and a single first down in the four possessions Wartman-White played. Soon after he departed, the Owls marched 93 yards in 12 plays for their first touchdown, and dominated thereafter.

Franklin said on Tuesday’s Big Ten conference call that Wooten, Wartman-White’s replacement, “did some good things” against the Owls. Wooten is listed as the first-stringer on this week’s depth chart, but the head coach said it is also possible that Cabinda, a sophomore, will move to the middle.

“We're going to look at who is going to take control not only physically but be able to make the plays out there on the field, making the calls and the checks,” Franklin said. “That's one of the things with our defense -- there is a lot of communication that goes on and everybody's got to be on the same page.”

There were communication issues on both sides of the ball last week, Franklin said, and he noted Tuesday that there is marked contrast between Cabinda and Wooten in their ability to make themselves heard.

“I think in general Gary is a soft-spoken guy,” Franklin said. “I've probably heard him say seven words since we've been here, where Cabinda is more of an extrovert and he's always got something to say.”

Cabinda agreed Wednesday that he is chatty, but said Wooten is more than capable of getting his point across when the need arises.

“In terms of his personality, he’s not a very loud guy,” Cabinda said, “but on the field he definitely turns that aspect on, because he knows how vital that is at the Mike position.”

Cabinda, a star running back at Hunterdon Central High in Flemington, N.J., also played middle linebacker there. He appeared in nine games at outside ’backer as a freshman last year, with one start, and was credited with seven tackles against the Owls.

He called the possibility of moving to the middle “a great opportunity.”

“It’s an opportunity to step up as a leader of the defense,” he said. “Obviously it’s a difficult position to play. It’s not easy. You’ve got to make calls. You’ve got to make adjustments and checks. It’s not easy to do, when you’re playing in front of 107,000 in Beaver Stadium. Guys will take reps (in practice). It will be a combination of guys, and we’ll kind of see at the end of the week how that all plays out, and what happens come game time.”

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