NITTANY NOTES: Six Pack (Defense)

With spring practice right around the corner, FOS went to several practice observers to see which defensive players they are most anxious to see in action. Here are their top six picks.

With spring practice arriving in short order, we thought it would be interesting to get a gauge of which up and comers have impressed in the winter conditioning period.

Here are six defensive players who have not been in the spotlight that observers have on their short watch list:

Jack Crawford, DE: Said to be "really put together" and "solid as a rock" in terms of his physique and build, Crawford is hardly an unknown on the defensive line, having seen action in all 12 games last season. However, as one observer explained, "With [Josh] Gaines, [Aaron] Maybin and [Maurice] Evans gone [to the NFL Draft], [Coach Larry Johnson] needs to get depth at the ends."

Crawford is a leading candidate, with "the ability to tear into the edge" due to solid footwork and developing technique. "He's got a good rip technique and has been working on his control to tighten his pursuits so he isn't out wide." As another observer said, "Jack has a massive opportunity in front of him. I can't wait to see how he comes out [this spring]."

Impact Potential: High

Michael Mauti, LB: Called "the Cajun Connor" by some, Mauti is drawing comparisons to Dan Connor in terms of his discipline, build and overall aggression. "He's one of those guys who plays nuts — he can just turn it on on the field," an observer said. Mauti has been called the "best of the bunch" among the young stable of linebackers the squad currently has.

"Mike's no-nonsense," one observer said. Another explained, "He is a devastating hitter." Others have called him a "tank" and "Mack truck" when it comes to his hitting ability. "He's fearless. That gives him a real edge in this massive 'backer battle," an observer said. "He has great discipline and determination and does what he needs to do and is constantly adjusting his technique and approach based on what the staff is giving him." Observers feel he has the ability to make a real run at a starting spot despite the logjam of talent.

Impact Potential: High

Mike Yancich, LB: At about 230 pounds, Yancich has "put a lot into his conditioning," since he's been on campus. Observers like his "off-the-line quickness" and overall technique. "He's very coachable," one observer explained. Said to have a "reckless flair," Yancich's aggression and focus are his best traits. "He's dying to get better with every rep," an observer said. "He's always asking for feedback from [the coaches] and internalizing everything. He can take criticism hard, but I think he feeds off of it to improve."

Many feel Yancich is doing what he has to to make a serious run at the two deep. "There is a ton of talent [at linebacker] ... a ton," an observer said. "He's one of those young guys who people have sky-high expectations for. He hasn't disappointed with his conditioning, but we'll see how spring goes."

Impact Potential: Medium

D'Anton Lynn, CB: As a true freshman, Lynn saw early action as a gunner on the special teams kick coverage units. Praised for his speed and athleticism, Lynn is one of the player many are looking for to step in at corner with the departure of Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis.

Said to have "improved control of his speed," observers are anxious to see how tight he can keep his coverage this spring. "He's the guy who a lot of eyes are on — no pressure," one observer explained. Most feel he has the raw skills and ability to step in and impact the secondary, but the spring will reveal where his technique and tendencies are to the staff. "It depends on how Knowledge Timmons handles the move to corner," an observer said. "Lynn seems to have the speed though, and that's half the battle [with corners], the part you can't teach."

Impact Potential: High

Brandon Ware, DT: Ware has impressed observers with the control of his massive build and discipline to "trim down." In fact his progress earned him a coveted spot on the limited travel roster, a are honor for a redshirting freshman.

With shedding some size, Ware has focused on building his endurance and footwork. "We've got some good depth at tackle right now, but Brandon has the ability to take it to another level and open up a lot of pressure on the line. If he gets his endurance up he could be they type of player that demands a double team on every snap," an observer said.

Impact Potential: Medium

Gerald Hodges, S: Hodges is an early enrollee who has made an early impression on program observers despite not do anything with pads on as of yet. Described as "shredded" and "ripped," Hodges "does not look like your average true freshman," one observer said.

In the winter workouts, he's shown "impressive power and strength" and "keeps up pretty well with what [John Thomas] throws at him," an observer explained. As another observer said, "I really need to see if he can pull it together on the field. A lot of guys look great for a calendar shoot, but can't get it together in live ball action." Most observers are taking the wait-and-see approach, but have high hopes based on what they have seen so far.

Impact Potential: Medium


Sean Lee, LB: By no means an unseen player, every observer mentions the desire to see the fifth-year in action this spring after an injury redshirt in 2008. "He's constantly bargaining to get into runs and drills that the coaches pull him out of," one observer said. And of course everyone wants to see how his knee is after the recovering from an ACL tear sustained last spring.

"I am not sure how much they are going to have him in [during spring drills]," one observer explained. "They have been ultra-cautious with him and I would wager that [the coaches] don't really see a need to risk him getting injured this spring. He knows the playbook cold and it gives the slew of younger guys an opportunity to get extra reps."

Impact Potential: High is THE source for original, exclusive, inside coverage of Penn State football.


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