In their words: Linebacker
Between Penn State's Pro Day Tuesday and Wednesday's media availability last week, early impressions out of spring practice have been plentiful.
Wednesday, we looked at Penn State's quarterbacks. Thursday, we tackled the running back position. Friday, we moved on to the receivers. Monday, we examined the offensive line. We hit the defensive line Tuesday morning. Now, moving on to Penn State's linebackers.
Micah Parsons has been, without any hesitation, one of the major focal points among Penn State’s players and coaches throughout the Nittany Lions' offseason.
The rising sophomore, already on campus for more than a year as a January enrollee in 2018, has a season under his belt. He posted a team-high 83 tackles, including 5.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks, splitting time with Koa Farmer in his debut campaign.
With Farmer graduated and now pursuing an opportunity in the NFL, what’s left for the Nittany Lions at linebacker are two established starters in Cam Brown and Jan Johnson and, presumably, a starting spot for Parsons. And Parsons, said Farmer, is plenty ready for his full-time feature role.
“We call em vets, then we call them young guy vets. Micah’s definitely one of those. He played a lot of football last year,” said Farmer. “I think the next step for him is to raise his IQ, become more of a leader and I think that’s what he’s doing. From talking with [Dwight Galt], he’s doing it in the weights, he’s doing it in workouts, he’s doing it during spring ball.”
The sentiment was echoed throughout the former Nittany Lion defenders back on campus to participate in last week’s Pro Day at Holuba Hall.
Hailed for his leadership qualities by defensive end Shareef Miller, Parsons also earned the praise of cerebral safety Nick Scott, going so far as to suggest that the linebacker is ready to assume a “huge role” and could even become a defensive captain, sooner or later.
“He's extremely athletic. He's only going to keep maturing, so he should be a big part of what they do next year,” said Scott. “He's young. He'll be a true sophomore this year, so he'll have a little bit more learning to do, but people respect him, I respect him. He's a hard worker. So if he stays on that trend and keeps buying into what the coaches are preaching, then he should be a defensive captain.”
The same might also be said of Brown on an even sooner timeline.
In fact, James Franklin’s comments following the team’s first week of spring practice suggested strongly that Brown is very much headed for a primary role not just among the linebackers, but within the Nittany Lion defense as a whole.
“Cam is one of those guys, we've got a pretty good idea of who he is and where he's at,” said Franklin. “I think the biggest difference right now is just his leadership. He's taken a real command of the team. He's taken a real command of the defense. He's gotten bigger, he's gotten stronger and more physical.
“So it's just that steady evolution that you kind of see with him, growing and more confident, I think he's got a chance to have a really big year for us.”
That confidence manifested itself most fully last week when Brown announced to the media his, and the Nittany Lions’, intention to play for a national championship this year.
And, according to Farmer, Brown has the talent and athleticism to back up the confidence.
“Cam is a very mature guy. He’s so smart, and he can also play a lot of positions, especially with his frame,” said Farmer. “He told me he’s 230, I don’t know if he’s 230, he always lies about his weight with me, but he does look bigger. The first time I saw him I said, ‘Wow, you look big.’ I think he is taking the next step. Talking with coach Pry when I got here, he said Cam is really taking the next step being a leader.”
Providing assessments of the names and faces likely to fill out the rest of Penn State’s two-deep at linebacker, Farmer offered that Jesse Luketa’s maturity is a strength, Ellis Brooks has a natural feel for the game, and, after a surprise breakout last season manning the middle, Jan Johnson should continue on that trajectory for his final season of eligibility with the Nittany Lions.
And, though currently running with the third team behind the likes of Luketa, Brooks, and Charlie Katshir, Franklin also was asked and provided an early evaluation of four-star January enrollees Lance Dixon and Brandon Smith.
“I would say all those true freshmen, they're just so raw. They're talented but they're raw. They're raw mentally in terms of experience. They're raw physically in terms of fundamentals. Things that they were able to get away with, tackling high or something like that, they just can't get away with now,” said Franklin. “I think all those mid-semester freshmen have all had that welcome to college football moment by now already. That's a humbling experience. They're not used to that. And then they kind of battled through it. They kind of battled back.
“So I think by the end of spring, those guys Lance and Brandon as well as a number of guys, will have made a significant step. And then obviously all summer and camp is going to be important, and there will be a handful of those guys, those freshmen that come in in the summer, that will be ready. But we'll see.”