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All-Franklin Team: Defense

Penn State head coach James Franklin will enter his 8th season at the helm of the program this fall. His tenure has included a Big Ten title, three New Years Six bowl game appearances, and a few big wins.

He's also had his fair share of exciting players. With that in mind, BWI has compiled a starting lineup on both sides of the ball comprised of players from his tenure.

After mapping out the offense earlier in the week, let's take a look at the defense.


Defensive End: Carl Nassib 

Carl Nassib produced one of the best seasons by a Penn State defensive end ever, and that's why he cracks this list. In 2015, his final season in Happy Valley, Nassib broke the Penn State single-season sack record, coming away with 15.5 sacks in just 10 games. He had at least two sacks in four games in that fantastic season, and got to the quarterback at least once in every game he played. He wasn't the most productive in his two seasons before that, but that's not a reason to snub him here.

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Defensive End: Yetur Gross-Matos 

There were several candidates for this second defensive end spot, including Shareef Miller, Shaka Toney and Odafe Oweh, but Yetur Gross-Matos edges it. He claimed 18.5 sacks in 34 games for the Nittany Lions, getting to the quarterback at a rate of slightly more than once every other game for his career. He was also an elite run defender later in his Penn State career, earning an excellent 83.0 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus during his junior season.

Defensive Tackle: Austin Johnson 

Austin Johnson only played for Franklin for two seasons, but he made both of them count. He was an elite presence on the defensive interior for Penn State in 2015, especially, earning a 90.9 run defense grade from PFF while compiling 78 total tackles. He also managed an impressive 15 tackles for loss that season, and got to the quarterback 6.5 times from his position on the defensive interior.

Defensive Tackle: Anthony Zettel 

Like Johnson, Franklin took over midway through Anthony Zettel's Penn State career, but his production was so impressive that he belongs on this list. Zettel's 2014 campaign saw him sack the quarterback 10 times and earn a 91.2 overall defensive grade from PFF, among the highest for a Nittany Lion since the site's inception. Zettel's 2015 season wasn't quite as impressive, but he is still more than deserving of a place on this list.

Linebacker: Micah Parsons 

Perhaps the greatest illustration of Micah Parsons' influence on Penn State's defense was the downturn it took without him in 2020. Parsons' skillset allowed him to do a little bit of everything for the Nittany Lions, and he showcased that in 2019, when he was an elite run defender and pass rusher, while also proving solid in coverage. A true game dominating presence, Parsons was one of the easiest selections to make for this list.

Linebacker: Jason Cabinda 

Jason Cabinda gave the Nittany Lions four solid seasons of service. He played sparingly as a true freshman, then became a fixture at linebacker for the Nittany Lions for three seasons, helping anchor a Penn State defense that won the Big Ten title in 2016. By the time his career was finished, Cabinda was ninth all time in career tackles with 286. He earns his place for his consistency over a three-year period, rather than one or two excellent seasons.

Linebacker: Mike Hull

Franklin only coached Mike Hull for one season, but that season earned Hull first-team All-Big Ten honors, and saw Hull compile an astonishing 140 total tackles, including 10.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks. Hull proved reliable in coverage as well, with a 90.6 pass coverage grade from PFF. It's hard to ask for a better season than that. Hull couldn't be left off this list.

Corner: Amani Oruwariye 

Amani Oruwariye was a well-rounded corner for the NIttany Lions for a few years, proving effective against the run game and in coverage. He didn't start until his senior season, when he was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and the media, but he always contributed. He also had a flair for the big play. He finished his career with eight interceptions, including a memorable one against Appalachian State in overtime to win the Nittany Lions that game.

Corner: Trevor Williams 

After a rough 2013 in which he played very little, Trevor Williams truly blossomed under Franklin, become a well-rounded cornerback for his final two seasons in blue and white. He was an excellent tackler and solid in coverage, making him an important presence for the Nittany Lion defense. He was twice named an All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Safety: Marcus Allen 

Marcus Allen was the spark behind arguably the most important play in Franklin's tenure, blocking an Ohio State field goal that Grant Haley returned for a touchdown to beat Ohio State in 2016. For four seasons, he was Penn State's energizer bunny — a hard-hitting safety who provided the energy that his teammates fed off. He's No. 5 on Penn State's all time tackles list with 321, and was named first-team All-Big Ten his senior season.

Safety: Adrian Amos 

The choice here between Adrian Amos, who played for Franklin in 2014, and Jaquan Brisker, who was excellent for the Nittany Lions in 2020, was a difficult one. Both players are well rounded for the safety position and were tremendous assets to their defenses as a whole, but ultimately Amos's three interceptions in 2014 help him claim this final spot. Brisker could very well surpass him if he repeats his 2020 campaign in 2021.


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