football Edit

Penn State football: Anatomy of a position group — The linebackers

Blue White Illustrated has begun a new series breaking down each Penn State Nittany Lions football position group and how it was constructed, also touching on its outlook ahead of the 2021 season and looking further forward. We continue the series with Penn State's linebackers.

Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Tight Ends

Wide Receivers

Offensive Line

Safeties

Corners

PSU's LB Recruiting Since 2016
*Players who were listed as LB prospects but played other positions immediately upon their arrival at Penn State have been excluded

2021 Penn State Linebacker Outlook 

Current Roster LBs (Scholarship Only)
Player Experience  Stars 

Brandon Smith

Junior

Ellis Brooks

Redshirt Senior

Curtis Jacobs

Sophomore

Jesse Luketa

Senior

Kobe King

Freshman

Jamari Buddin

Freshman

Tyler Elsdon

Redshirt Freshman

Charlie Katshir

Redshirt Junior

Penn State's linebackers attracted plenty of criticism for their showing during the 2020 season.

Without their anchor in Micah Parsons, who opted out of the season before it began, the Nittany Lions linebackers struggled in just about every facet of the game — especially in the midst of Penn State's 0-5 start.

The key contributors are back for the 2021 season, and while Kobe King and Jamari Buddin joined the fold from the 2021 recruiting class, no transfer additions were made to bolster this area of the field. In fact, Penn State lost linebacker Lance Dixon to the transfer portal, as the former four-star prospect landed at West Virginia.

There have been some tweaks, however.

Brandon Smith is moving from the Sam linebacker position to the Will, where he should be positioned to play to his strengths better and be involved more in the running game.

Curtis Jacobs seems primed to replace Smith at the Sam, while Ellis Brooks figures in as the middle linebacker.

So where does that leave Jesse Luketa, a fixture at the linebacker position for Penn State last season?

James Franklin declared that Luketa and Brooks are both starters for his team in 2021 when he was asked about the subject at the end of spring practice — and the Penn State staff is experimenting with moving Luketa around.

"Jesse's practicing some at defensive end," Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. "What that role's going to look like, I don't know yet. But we're certainly going to experiment with it like we did with Micah some, and put him at the line of scrimmage. He's one of those hybrid players, just like Micah. He's one of those guys who's got rush ability but looks pretty good playing from a two-point [stance] and playing at the second level. Jesse's best plays last year were when he was in the box. He's such a physical guy. He's got great strength. And we're gonna try and maximize what he does well, which was the second level in the box and his rush ability."

Especially with Luketa experimenting on the defensive line, there's a significant amount of uncertainty when it comes to the linebacker depth for the Nittany Lions in 2021.

Charlie Katshir is the most experienced among that group, but even as a redshirt junior Penn State fans haven't seen much of him to this point.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Elsdon, along with true freshmen Kobe King and Jamari Buddin, could have a role to play.


Looking Ahead at Penn State's Linebackers 

Should Jacobs indeed win one of the starting jobs for the Nittany Lions out of camp — which is where all signs seem to be pointing as we enter August — then he will be at least one starter who will definitely return next season.

Brooks and Luketa each could as well, although that would require using the extra season of eligibility granted to all athletes by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith has another year remaining as well, but the possibility of his departure via the NFL Draft should be acknowledged if he has a breakout season.

All of that is to say, the Nittany Lions may have to overhaul this position in 2022 if things break a certain way.

Certainly some of the depth candidates this season will target a starting role in 2022, but how should Penn State fans feel about that?

If we take a look at the recruiting rankings, Katshir was a three-star prospect, as was Elsdon. King is a four-star prospect who enrolled early this winter and thus has a bit of a head start. Buddin was ranked by Rivals analysts as a three-star prospect. Three-star prospect Keon Wylie and newly committed four-star Abdul Carter will join the fold from the Class of 2022 as well.

Depending on just how many holes there are to fill next season, it's possible that this is a very young and inexperienced group for Pry mold.

There's talent there, to be sure, but maybe not as much as Penn State fans would like to see.


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