Nittany Notes: D Line

Here are some early winter conditioning notes about the Penn State defensive line positions. Keep in mind that the players are only participating in conditioning sets and basic assignment drills with limited contact at this time. Get a report on early notes around the unit.

Defensive Ends

Let's start with the outside of the line with the defensive ends.

Strong Side DE: On the strong side the current expected contenders are sophomore Jared Odrick, newcomer Eric Latimore and Jed Hill.

Odrick "looks good" and seems to be the oods-on player to beat among observers for the SS starting role. The consensus is that he is faster, stronger and smarter thanks to getting a year under his belt. "The position needs an owner and he is poised to take it," one observer said.

Latimore has been on campus about a month or so and is doing pretty well. He is getting acclimated to the speed of the game and getting his conditioning to where it needs to be, but his attitude has been "great. He knows he has work to do and is getting it done." The speed of the game has been the biggest adjustment for him.

Hill's issue is speed off the corner and "his ability to get around the assignment and break into the backfield." As one observer explained, "Jed has good strength, but it comes down to style of play and desire."

Weak Side DE: The weak side of the line "has a lot of potential" with the early contenders as junior Josh Gaines, sophomore Maurice Evans and redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin.

Gaines is "going hard" in workouts and has "stepped up as a leader of the unit - working with the younger guys a lot."

Maybin has received strong praise on his speed and his ability to "fly off the corner." He's added significant size, and "is approaching 250 [pounds]." Maybin is viewed as a "potential weapon on the pass rush."

Aaron Maybin

Evans also benefitted from his freshman game experience and "could enter spring [practice] around 260 [pounds]." He is said to be quick and agressive in early drills, but "needs to run around guys more instead of trying to go through them."

Again, it's early, so things can and likely will change. As a sidenote there have not been many mentions of Chris Rogers.

Defensive Tackles

To begin, the ACL injury to Tom McEowen two weeks ago was an unanticipated blow to the defensive tackle situation. Several observers had McEowen penciled in at the two deep for spring practice, which beings in little over a month, and others had him flagged as the odds-on starter for one of the spots. As one observer said at the start of winter sets, "Tom is a complete package; he has size, strength and power. But best of all he's coachable. He knows where he needs to improve and he's eager to do so."

Tom McEowen.

Several observers have shared that McEowen's attitude will play a major factor in expediting his recovery time, and thus allow him to make an impact this coming season.

In terms of the rest of the unit, the departure of Jay Alford is the biggest concern, although filling Ed Johnson's void is also viewed as an issue given the lack of overall experience. Phillip Taylor, Chris Baker and Abe Koroma are the current candidates for Alford's spot.

Clearly Taylor's size and strength "give him the edge as a pure run-stopper." The experience he saw last season in seven games "aided how he uses his feet and comes off the line." He has shown improvement at squaring his shoulders and using his hands, but "most importantly he is better suited to shed defenders and position himself in the lane to challenge the ball carrier." He needs to work on the consistency of his technique, particularly setting his base, but overall observers feel he is coming along.

Phillip Taylor. Redshirt freshman Koroma focused on his fundamentals this past season. "Abe is getting his center down more consistently and more fluidly comes out of his stance," according to one observer. "He has to bend his knees more to get under the assignment, but he has gotten better at hitting line breaks."

Given the time Baker missed this past season (NW, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and MSU) with injuries and the fact he only had six tackles on the year there have been concerns about his durability. He saw action in the Outback Bowl and currently he is conditioning and seems to be where he is expected to be. Approaching 300 pounds, some feel Baker's experience, although limited, gives him an edge heading into the spring. Others are concerned about his durability. He's needed to provide depth on Larry Johnson's rotation, but whether he can emerge as a starter remains to be seen.

In terms of the other spot there is talk of shifting Elijah Robinson back over from the offensive line, something that was mentioned as early as mid-season last year given that "he is better suited for defense," but that has yet to happen. There is concern about the lack of experience and depth issues here. The early candidates are junior Mike Lucian and redshirt freshman Ollie Ogbu, "but the line needs more depth for L.J. to build a rotation

Ogbu saw third team reps with the defensive tackles this past year and showed he has "power and intensity off the snap." He has been good on his "bull-rushes," but needs to "puh all the way through until the whistle blows." Ogbu has focused on "using his legs more to direct his opposition" and "needs to keep them moving."

Elijah Robinson.

Lucian only saw limited time against Temple last season and Ogbu redshirted last year. Observers feel there will have to be some shifts from the offensive line or from the defensive end spots, which appear to be deep. This tackle position is "the biggest concern the defense has to focus on this spring."


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