STATE COLLEGE – Penn State’s defensive line next season will look markedly different than it did last season.
Headed to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers is two-time first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, and defensive tackle Robert Windsor is headed to the Indianapolis Colts.
Also gone is former Nittany Lions’ defensive line coach Sean Spencer, who accepted the same position with the New York Giants.
Penn State has turned to John Scott Jr. to replace Spencer. Matching the production of Gross-Matos and Windsor will be a bit more challenging.
Scott comes to Penn State after spending the last three years in the SEC, with two seasons at Arkansas and, most recently, one at South Carolina. Scott’s Power Five experience also includes a two-year stint in the Big 12 at Texas Tech.
Penn State’s defensive front was boosted earlier this year when Shaka Toney, a rising fifth-year senior, opted to return to school for his final season. On paper, Toney appears to be the heir apparent to Gross-Matos.
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound Philadelphia native complemented Gross-Matos’ pressure efforts last season en route to 6.5 sacks, second on the team. He tacked on another five quarterback hurries, and finished with 41 tackles in 13 games. With 38 career games, 15.5 sacks and 84 total tackles, Toney will be one of the conference’s more seasoned players.
At 6-5, 257 pounds, rising redshirt sophomore defensive end Jayson Oweh is a physical specimen and could bookend Toney on the edge. Oweh received Big Ten freshman of the week accolades after forcing two fumbles and recording two sacks against Michigan State last October. He tallied 21 total tackles, five sacks, one pass deflection and two forced fumbles last year.
Defensive end is a position not just of strength, but depth, for the Nittany Lions.
Rising sophomore edge rusher has Adisa Isaac boasts a similar frame to Oweh, and Penn State coaches have routinely praised his motor. Isaac checks in at 6-4 and 256 pounds. He played in six games last season and tallied 14 total tackles, 1.5 sack and one forced fumble. He recorded more than one tackle in five of those six contests.
Moving to the interior, Penn State graduate senior Antonio Shelton and rising junior PJ Mustipher project to lead the Nittany Lions’ defensive tackle unit.
Shelton has played in 31 games during his Penn State career. Last year, he accumulated a career-high 17 total tackles in 13 games. Mustipher, meanwhile, exploded for a career-high 37 total tackles to go with one sack and one forced fumble. His best performance of the season occurred at Iowa where he registered seven tackles and forced one fumble.
Rising redshirt sophomore Judge Culpepper, rising redshirt junior Damion Barber and rising redshirt junior Fred Hansard could emerge as candidates to see increased playing time at defensive tackle this season.
Last year, Penn State’s defensive front led the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed (95 per game) thanks, in part, to the efforts from its defensive line. The Nittany Lions also ranked third in the conference with 45 sacks.
While the names on the sideline and in the trenches will be different this year, Penn State’s defensive line has all the pieces to again be one of the Big Ten’s elite.
ELTON HAYES covers Penn State sports for CNHI. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.