The Penn State Nittany Lions have to deal with major holes at the linebacker position this season. Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti were the team’s top tacklers last season as well as being emotional leaders on and off the field. Their departures leave Glenn Carson as the only starter from 2012 and just three others who have ever seen action at the collegiate level.
Carson has the most experience of any of the linebackers, as he started every game last year. The senior middle linebacker will provide a solid presence, as he’s already proven his ability. Last season, Carson finished third on the team with 85 total tackles, including one sack.
Taking one of the vacant outside linebacker positions will be Mike Hull. He had a solid season in 2012, playing in every game and starting the season finale due to an injury to Mauti. Though Hull made just one start, he was sixth on the team with 58 tackles and his four sacks were good enough for third on the team. Hull will look to take a step forward in his third season and continue the tradition of “Linebacker U.”
While two of the three spots are all but settled, the third one is a bit up in the air. Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman were thought to be in competition for the spot as both saw time last season. Kline made 18 tackles, seeing the field in every game. Wartman showed promise as a true freshman, blocking a punt and making one tackle in the season opener. However, he was injured in Week 2 and never returned in 2012.
Kline was unable to practice this spring due to an injury, opening the door for a healthy Wartman. He had a strong spring and has seemingly moved himself into the starting role and has already been talked about as an important player to watch in 2013.
Fans should expect to see a starting linebacker group of Carson, Hull and Wartman. Beyond that, depth could be an issue, as Kline is the only other player with game experience.
Redshirt freshman Gary Wooten and true freshman Brandon Bell should both see playing time. Brennan Franklin and freshman Zayd Issah were also expected to battle for playing time this year, but both are no longer on the roster. Franklin left the team and Issah’s scholarship was pulled for 2013 due to legal issues.
Though injuries, graduation and off-field issues have hurt the linebacker depth, the three starters are all solid and should be able to carry on the linebacker tradition in Happy Valley.