Nittany Notes: Backup Impact Part I

With the starting defense becoming solidified for the Florida International clash, there are a select few players who, though not expected start, will play integral roles in the success of the unit. Get the lowdown on who they are in this installment of Nittany Notes.

Before we jump into this report, here is an update on the current practice schedule for Penn State:

Wednesday: Two sessions, including an afternoon scrimmage
Thursday: One session
Friday: One session
Saturday: One session
Sunday: Off
Moonday: TBA (no session is currently scheduled but that is subject to change).

As a side note, Wednesday morning's practice session was "ragged," upsetting head coach Joe Paterno to the point he threw his whistle in anger. The whistle was listed as "probable" for the afternoon scrimmage.

"Right or wrong, the guys are sick of facing each other in practice," an observer said. "They are anxious to face another team. Needless to say, Joe was not too happy."

With the 2007 season approaching fast, the starting defensive unit is nearly set. But who are those non-starters who the defensive coaches are looking to to play integral roles. Here are five projected reservers practice observers feel will be important to the success of the defense.

Navorro Bowman: For most of the off-season observers have raved about the redshirt freshman's athleticism and stamina. Coming out of spring drills Bowman was running first-team outside linebacker opposite Sean Lee. However, through the early sessions of the preseason, the staff shifted him over to the opposite side to backup Lee, thus bringing Tyrell Sales into a starting position.

Bowman's shift was made for a few reasons. First, he's been "working closely" with Lee. "Sean got the same type of coaching from Danny [Connor]. [Coach Ron Vanderlinden] likes to have the veterans work with the young guys," an observer shared.

Second, though a step or two slower than Bowman, Sales has played in 25 games to date, so he will not be overwhelmed as an early-season starter on the strong side.

Finally, Bowman is physically where he "needs to be," so they want him "to learn both outside positions to play both sides if they need him."

In short, Bowman is now prepared to play either outside linebacker position on a full-time basis should Lee or Sales be knocked out by injury. And he has the physical ability to do it. Sales could be a bit too slow to handle the weak-side "Fritz" position Lee now mans.

As another observer told us, "I expect [Bowman] to progress with some playing time. Once he has that, he could get the starting job back."

Aaron Maybin: It's probably no stunner to see Maybin's name on this list considering the consistently high praise he has received this preseason. As one observer said of the redshirt freshman defensive end, "I'd be surprised if he's not a captain at some point."

Right around 250 pounds, Maybin has the size and speed to be a solid pass rusher. "He and [Maurice] Evans from the corners — let's just say I'd fasten my chin strap if I'm under center."

"Maybin's only knock is his inexperience," one observer said. Another said he needs to "really wrap up on a runner with his whole body." He is expected to break into the end rotation behind Josh Gaines. "Aaron is faster and a bit more aggressive than Gaines — not as big, but depending on what [defensive line coach Larry Johnson] sees from the offensive line, he could insert him in there for certain sets or situations."

Ollie Ogbu: The redshirt freshman defensive tackle "is a little slow off the snap, but when he's up he has good power, gets his base wide and frame low and really grinds it in to pick up that leverage." With Phillip Taylor sidelined for the near future with a MCL sprain, Ogbu's role "is that much more important."

Heading into the season Abe Koroma is likely to start at the nose tackle with Jared Odrick at the defensive tackle spot. However, Ogbu is expected to fit in the rotation to "keep the pressure fresh and throw different player strengths at them. Abe is all power, J's more finesse and speed, Ollie is strong, not as quick, but keeps low which makes him tough to engage. Even John [Shaw] — he's been here like forever — had to lower his stance to handle him."

Mark Rubin: "The unit's pretty deep with the safeties," one observer said. "But Mark's really coming into his own backing up Tony Davis at the free spot."

Described as "tough," and "hard nosed," the redshirt junior has "really embraced" his move from wide receiver, the position he played throughout his high school career and for his first full season at Penn State. "He's the team player you want. The guy who does what he can to help the greater good," according to one observer. "I don't get that he was all too happy about moving, but he's made the most of it."

With an experienced veteran like Davis ahead of him, Rubin is expected to see rotation time. One thing working against him is that Davis is a redshirt junior, the same as Rubin, so breaking into the starting role will be "more than a challenge. But you never know when you'll be needed."

Lydell Sargeant: Battling with A.J. Wallace this preseason for the corner position opposite Justin King, Sargeant is expected to be the second-teamer since "A.J.'s faster and a little bigger." However, given Wallace's inexperience in the position, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley may rotate the spot if "A.J. get's loose or sloppy on his coverage."

Also, with questions circling already about whether the junior King will depart early for the NFL, observers feel the staff will want to build the experience of a few corners for next season. "Obviously 2008 is not a priority in 2007. But if the team gets in some situations where it can get some backups some game work, that is a big plus."


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