Nittany Notes: Defense

With the coaching staff focused on rebuilding the secondary and defensive line, the focus out of the gate in spring practice drills has been on fundamentals, technique and reads. Get a closer look at how the depth chart has been assembled early on and much more.


With the linebacker serving as the backbone of the 2006 defense, it makes sense to start here. Joe Paterno addressed Paul Posluszny's status Saturday, saying "I'm not gonna play Paul. Paul wants to do some things, but I'm not gonna stick him in there. That would be foolish."

Though Posluszny has been suited up for practice with no red cross jersey (indicating no contact), he has not participated in full-speed drills. He has seen some half-speed" sets. Meanwhile, his Orange Bowl fill-in, Sean Lee, has stepped in at the position and is receiving "encouragement" from Posluszny on playing the role.

As one practice observer described, "Paul is like a coach out there, sitting on the sideline and giving Sean an earful when he makes a mistake. There is no better guy to coach the spot than Paul. Sean is doing great, though ... well maybe not so much in the eyes of the Butkus winner."

The linebacker two-deep is:

OLB: Sean Lee, Joe Cianciolo
MLB: Tim Shaw, Jerome Hayes/Dontey Brown
OLB: Dan Connor, Tyrell Sales

Tim Shaw is being backed up by both Jerome Hayes, who is just shy of 235 pounds, and Dontey Brown, who have both been splitting second-team drill reps early on. "Hayes looks so good. Redshirting him has done a ton for his game, the depth he provides — wow," an observer shared.

At 235 pounds Sales is playing outside with the second-team 'backers. "He's at a good size and plays the wing smart — he makes pretty good reads all-around. He is not as quick as Connor, but he is nasty on hits like Dan."

Defensive Line

The defensive line is already experiencing some "knock-down battles" and is expected to have some of the most fiercely contested positions on the team this spring. Currently the starting line up is:

LE: Jimmy Shaw
LT: Jay Alford
RT: Elijah Robinson
RE: Josh Gaines

Despite "looking good," Ed Johnson, the recently returned senior, is working at third-team right tackle. "He looks good physically, but the staff wants him to work his (butt) off to get his techique to where it should be. Ed should be a big contender for the tackle spot opposite Jay," a practice observer explained.

As for other defensive lineman turning heads, "Jimmy [Shaw] looks excellent. He is quick off the line and super strong. His reads have improved and he shifts his shoulders to make the corner on pass rushes," according to one observer. "He must have learned that watching Tamba [Hali], who was a master of it."

Alford is also a lineman who has received impressive praise all around out of the gate. One observer's assessment of Alford consisted of, "He's the hero of this defense that no one talks about. Jay is a big reason this defense has the ability to come together quickly."


The unit that requires the largest reconstruction effort is the defensive backfield, which has to replace all four departing senior starters. "Although the secondary lost a lot, I really don't think you'd find it is the biggest defensive concern of the staff," according to one observer.

Justin King has been described as "awesome," "outstanding," and "a stud." He is stronger and "believe it or not he looks faster, probably since he is more comfortable out there — more confident."

The current starting lineup for the secondary is:

CB: Justin King
S: Donnie Johnson
S: Nolan McCready
CB: Tony Davis

As FOS first reported last week, Spencer Ridenhour is playing safety in the early goings of the spring. "He's built to play safety, but he is nuts out there," an observer explained. "He is slimmed down and looks the part, but he's crazy on the field — he runs drills like he wants to level someone."

The second team corner reps have been split between Willie Harriot, Devin Fentress and Knowledge Timmons. "All three guys are quick. Harriot probably has the best control over his speed, but Timmons is a little bigger, which may give him the edge. It should be fun to watch," according to one observer.


  • Although several observers we spoke to do not see it as a permanent move, Mark Rubin has seen his practice reps at safety so far this spring.

  • Lydell Sargeant is currently drilling with the cornerbacks. There is skepticism among observers that he will remain there, with one observer saying "He's quick, but he's built to be a [running back], not a DB."

  • Brent Wise continues to see no contact, wearing the red cross jersey due to the knee surgery he had during the off-season after the bowl game.

  • Despite the talk of incorporating a 3-4 set into the defensive scheme, the group has yet to run any drills that would indicate this addition through the early practices.


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