This week, Times Shamrock Penn State football beat writer Donnie Collins will break down the 2016 roster, as it currently stands, position-by-position. Here is a look at the defensive line.
Evan Schwan (1/1)
Curtis Cothran (2/2)
Garrett Sickels (2/2)
Torrence Brown (3/3)
Ryan Buchholz (4/4)
Kam Carter (4/4)
Kevin Givens (4/4)
Shareef Miller (4/4)
Daniel Joseph (5/4)
Shane Simmons (5/4)
Shaka Toney (5/4)
Tyrell Chavis (2/2)
Parker Cothren (2/2)
Brenon Thrift (3/3)
Antoine White (3/3)
Robert Windsor (4/4)
Ellison Jordan (5/4)
Antonio Shelton (5/4)
Scholarships used at position: 18
Scholarships likely to be completed after 2016 season: 1
Projected 2016 depth chart
The situation: The defensive tackle position is essentially the entire Penn State roster in a nutshell.
The defensive front, as far as number of scholarships, is the most loaded position Penn State has. It is also among the youngest and least experienced. In all, there are 18 players up front who own scholarships; but there is only one who has ever started a game, and a mere handful who have played meaningful snaps.
The biggest issues lie at defensive tackle, where Penn State lost both of its starters — senior Anthony Zettel and junior Austin Johnson, who graduated and decided to forego his final season of eligibility — to the professional ranks. The top backup last season, the stout Tarow Barney, also graduated, which leaves the two most experienced returnees to be the tenacious Parker Cothren and gifted-but-young sophomore Antoine White. They’ve shown flashes, especially Cothren, of being effective players. But for once, Penn State hardly has a sure thing in the middle.
Cothren and White will be challenged for the starting jobs by Tyrell Chavis, a hard-charging 300-pounder who started his career at Virginia before transferring to the junior college ranks for the past two seasons. Chavis has no redshirt to burn and just two seasons of eligibility left, so clearly, he was brought in not as a project but as contributor. Despite the fact that Lackawanna College product Brenon Thrift has three seasons of eligibility remaining, the coaching staff insists he is on the roster to be in the rotation this season, although his skill set might make him more of an end/tackle swingman than a pure tackle.
Add much-talked-about redshirt freshman Robert Windsor to the mix, and Penn State has a good group of talented prospects at tackle. It just isn’t a particularly deep group, yet.
They’re much deeper at end, where they can go five teams deep with scholarship players. Garrett Sickels is a junior and a developing star, and the Nittany Lions are much better-equipped to replace Carl Nassib on the left side than they are either Zettel or Johnson right now.
Coaches have been raving about Torrence Brown for two years now, and he had some big moments in Nassib’s stead last year. But he needs to be better against the run to wrest the starting spot away from senior Evan Schwan. Redshirt freshman Kam Carter is the guy who looks like he’s going to be the next big-time, two-way threat at end, and he’s size-ready to take the field this year. But the guy everybody will be watching is Shane Simmons, a true freshman who can contribute immediately on passing downs and be a factor. Whoever starts opposite Sickels is going to have to be terrific against the run, because that’s the only way to keep Simmons on the sideline.
What the scholarship future holds: This is a tricky one, because on the surface, Penn State has 17 players returning along the defensive front next season, and that should be enough even with Schwan graduating. But this is not a particularly deep group at defensive tackle, and two of them (Chavis and Cothren) are gone after the 2017 season.
So, this is a situation coach James Franklin and his staff will have to address starting with the class of 2017. Penn State should want to add one, maybe two, defensive tackles in the next class, unless one or two of the ends can be moved inside — and there have been some thoughts that Carter and fellow redshirt freshmen Kevin Givens and Ryan Buccholz could make the transition. Penn State is either going to have to sacrifice some of its immense depth at end or take from another position to add scholarship tackles in coming classes.
Walk-on who could get a scholarship: None yet. Although the staff likes Dallas product Ryan Monk at tackle, he still has four seasons of eligibility left. There are no senior walk-ons who play a lot that seem to fit in this area.