James Franklin will lead the Penn State Nittany Lions into 2014 with the goal of building the program back into a Big Ten contender once they come out from under their NCAA sanctions. But while Franklin has been scoring big on the recruiting trail, the outlook for 2014 looks tough due to mounting injuries and overall depth issues. Perhaps the biggest blow came this week with a torn Achilles tendon for senior linebacker Ben Kline.
Kline played through injuries in 2013 and worked his way into the starting lineup later in the season before a torn pectoral ended his season. He underwent surgery to repair the pectoral and also had a second shoulder surgery soon after that. The team was optimistic that he would be available for the start of the season and challenge for a starting job in 2014. At the very least, he would have provided some excellent depth at the position as a rotational player.
But bigger than Kline’s lost leadership and production is the state of the Penn State linebacking corps heading into the 2014 season. With Kline out indefinitely, the team has just four linebackers who played last season and came into the university on scholarship in Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman, Brandon Bell, and Gary Wooten. Without Kline in the mix, Penn State is down another body and will have to get much more from Wooten (6 tackles as a freshman in 2013), split time among non-scholarship players, or push true freshmen Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder into the mix earlier than expected.
Depth at linebacker was already going to be a concern for Penn State this fall but with Kline’s injury it becomes a major issue. The team is now paper-thin at linebacker and have to hope that the group can stay healthy or risk having a truly desperate defensive situation in 2014.