Nittany Notes: Defensive Tackle

Get a winter progress report on the interior D-line positions in the latest edition of our exclusive Nittany Notes.

Our off-season look at the Penn State defense continues with a breakdown of the tackles.

Jared Odrick's broken ankle in one reason the Lions are a bit thin at defensive tackle. As we reported last week, Odrick wore an immobilizing boot through PSU's trip to the Alamo Bowl but is currently able to go without it. He is continuing his rehab, although he has not participated in run sessions yet this winter. Some observers indicate he could start running soon, though.


Jared Odrick.

Odrick sustained the injury in PSU win at Indiana last October and his initial recovery period to get out of the boot and put weight on the ankle was estimated at about 12 weeks. So he is currently on track based on that timetable. Odrick saw action in the first portion of last season, starting in seven of those contests.

But that is only the start of the missing-persons report. The DT unit currently has two players — Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor — who have been suspended from the team for off-field incidents. Baker saw action in every 2007 clash, minus the bowl game because he was suspended. Taylor saw action in 12 games, starting the last five.


Chris Baker.

Baker is serving a suspension related to being bound over for trial on felony assault charges in connection to an April fight and another fight in October. Taylor was suspended in early February related to unspecified off-field issues. Multiple program observers have said they expect both players to return to the team, it is just a matter of when.

First Team

Given these depth issues, the first-team winter reps have been taken primarily by Abe Koroma and Ollie Ogbu.

Koroma saw action in the last nine games of the 2007 season and started in the Alamo Bowl win over Texas A&M. Koroma missed the first part of the season after recovering from a foot fracture sustained during preseason practice. According to observers, Koroma looks "healthy," "comfortable" and "impressive."


Abe Koroma.

As on observer said, "He's a huge asset to have on the line. He's made such strides with his basic technique to control his power. [Position coach Larry Johnson] has really helped him to start pulling his game together to progress toward being that dominating force [Johnson] expects him to be."

Of the current crop of defensive tackles, Ogbu is the only player in that group who saw action in all 13 games last season, starting in four. "The [game] experience Ollie got has really improved his approach," an observer said. "He still needs consistency with holding his stance form, but he has better management of his hands and keeps on his toes — he's more fluid in his movements."


Ollie Ogbu.

Second Team

With Taylor, Baker and Odrick sidelined, the current depth of the unit is "very limited" according to one line observer. Tom McEowen is the main backup seeing winter reps. McEowen sustained a torn ACL during winter conditioning in January 2007. The injury caused him to miss the rest of winter workouts and all of spring practice.

After a an "aggressive rehab" McEowen returned to see playing time in seven games in 2007. He skipped the bowl trip for personal reasons. Currently he is back with the defensive tackles and "looks great," according to observers. "He looks healthy and strong and seems to have no issues with the knee," one observer said of McEowen's performance so far this winter.


Tom McEowen.

However, that still leaves questions swirling about depth and the structure of the tackle rotation. Although Odrick's availability for the early part of the 2008 season has yet to be determined, Baker and Taylor could be back for spring ball. "That would be key in helping to nail down the rotation for the preseason," according to an observer.

In the meantime, one option to make up for the lack of depth would be moving a defensive end or offensive lineman to the position. But as of this writing, we had not heard of any firm plans to do so.

Otherwise, if Baker and Taylor do not return, Johnson will be forced to look to incoming freshmen like Brandon Ware and James Terry to see if they have an outside chance of adding immediate depth. Stay tuned to FightOnState.com for unmatched inside coverage of Penn State football.

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