IN FOCUS: Power Line (DL)

Get an exclusive update on the men who are getting it done in the defensive trenches for the Penn State football team.

With a series of questions facing the Penn State defense, including inexperienced linebackers and injuries in the secondary, we turn our attention to what many observers feel "is the strongest point of the defense, if not the team as a whole" — the front four.

Interior - Defensive Tackles

First-round NFL Draft pick Jared Odrick "can't realistically be replaced quickly," given his ability to "eat up space" and "handle double teams." However, Devon Still, who was named as one of our six pivotal players "is the best candidate to take over for Jared."

As we mentioned in our Pivotal Players report, Stills' strength, agility and sheer size (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) set him apart as a massive pressure point for offensive lines. However, whether he can demand a double team remains to be seen. Position coach Larry Johnson has previously pointed to Odrick as an example of what Still can become. But having such potential and actually climbing to Odrick's level are two different things.

"He's massive, but surprisingly quick and has become disciplined with his technique," an observer said. "I think some of that is because he learned so much from Jared. Coach J[ohnson] is on Still to go all out on every down. He knows what he can become."

Next to Still is Ollie Ogbu. Still actually made his first career start in the Capital One Bowl against LSU,, replacing the first-teamer Ogbu. Ogbu is "reliable with his play" and described as "consistent." He's not as explosive or sizable as Still, at 6-1, 292 pounds.

"Ollie's not going to demand double-ups, but he can more than handle his assignment, which is all the [defensive] line needs if Devon plays up to his abilities," an observer said.

Ogbu and Still "communicate well" and are said to work well together "hitting the [offensive] line."

Behind the starters is "a lot of young depth" in players like Jordan Hill, James Terry, Brandon Ware, and Evan Hailes. Hill and Terry are penciled in as the second-teamers. Both have shown a strong ability to "plug holes and stop the run" against the first- and second-team offense. They have been focused on collapsing the pocket and getting better with their pass-rushing skills.

By many accounts Ware has made strides with the academic issues that have slowed his career and is expected to "contribute if he keeps it up." Ware's size and sheer strength are "tough to contain," although the coaches have been having him focus on sharpening his technique. "He's got so much power, he can blow up plays if he keeps his feet under him and keeps his center down," one observer said.

Early enrollee Hailes appears physically prepared to play as a freshman. He's got work to do with his technique, though. If everyone stays healthy and out of trouble it sounds like the plan is to redshirt him.

Exterior - Defensive Ends

The defensive line has a few "big boys who come at you like a pair of freight trains," according to one observer. Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore have "been the best test the quarterbacks could get." Both have "harassed" the QBs, making them "think on their feet," particularly since the QBs have not had the luxury of the red "don't-hit-me" jerseys.

According to one observer, "The coaches stressed (to the quarterbacks) that every reps had to count. What better way to keep the youngsters alert than to have open season with Crawford and Latimore headhunting?" As an aside, for those who may be worried, the defensive players can hit the players but are told "if they hurt the QBs they'll be carrying Ware to class."

Crawford (6-5, 265) and Latimore (6-6, 280) have impressive size, but also "deceptive agility." Crawford, in particular "is stronger and has his rip/wipe technique down to shed blocks."

Behind the starters are Kevion Latham, Sean Stanley, Pete Massaro and freshman Kyle Baublitz.

Baublitz has shown early promise, but again, given the depth, it sounds like he's penciled in for a redshirt.

Latham, a 6-2, 252-pounder, does not have the ideal size to be an every-down end (at least among this group). But he'll be a solid situational speed rusher.

The coaches have been cautious with Stanley at times this preseason due to concussion concerns. He only weighs 232 pounds, but excels at the speed rush.

There are rumblings that the staff is considering using him in a stand-up end role similar to Jerome Hayes' position last season. Given his speed and and rush skills, it could be the ideal fit.

Massaro redshirted as a true freshman in 2008 then tore his right ACL and missed the entire 2009 season. But he is back at full strength now. The 6-4, 255-pounder is described as an "under-the-radar" talent by one observer, a player with good speed who has room to fill out a bit.

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