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Pry Pushing Ahead With Plans for 2020 Season, Sans Spring Practice

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There’s no pause button in football. While collegiate athletics are shut down at the moment, coaches such as Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry are still doing what they can to prepare for the resumption of football activities, whenever that may be.

For Pry, a big part of those preparations involves figuring out the best way to deploy All-America outside linebacker Micah Parsons. The last time Penn State fans saw Parsons, he was wreaking havoc on Memphis in the Cotton Bowl, finishing the game with 14 tackles and a couple of forced fumbles and winning defensive MVP honors in the Nittany Lions’ 53-39 victory. That performance, which followed his selection as Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, may have only hinted at what’s to come when he returns to action.

“Maximizing what he can do for us each and every snap that he’s on the field is important,” Pry said. “It was certainly brought up quite a bit in our off-season self-scout: How can we use Micah more, put him in position to be successful for himself and our unit? He’s obviously a rare talent, and I think his best football is in front of him. [He’ll] continues to grow and develop in the meeting room and with his work habits and mature as a college football player. We’re going to see a better and better Micah Parsons out there each and every week.”

Pry said one area of focus will be to create opportunities for Parsons to make plays in the backfield. He finished his sophomore season with 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. Those totals include three TFL and two sacks in the Cotton Bowl.

“He’s very good on the other side of the line of scrimmage,” Pry said. “His rush ability is one of his best traits. He’s obviously been productive there, but I think we can see some improvement. We can get a little more mileage out of how good he is coming off that edge or through those gaps, as was apparent in the Cotton Bowl.”

Elsewhere, Pry has a couple of holes to fill in his linebacker corps with the graduation of Jan Johnson and Cam Brown. But while the Lions don’t have anyone with Parsons’ accolades at those spots, they have an experienced backup in the middle in Ellis Brooks, a versatile LB who can play inside or outside in Jesse Luketa, and a number of high-impact young linebackers who appear poised to develop into difference-makers.

“I like the guys in the room. I like the candidates,” Pry said. “Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa are certainly two guys with good experience who will battle it out at one of those spots. Brandon Smith, Lance Dixon, Charlie Katshir – I’m excited about all three of those guys and what they’re bringing to the table right now. There’s a lot of depth in the room and a lot of competition. In my experience, those are pretty good ingredients for a good unit.”

In other personnel news, the Nittany Lions moved redshirt sophomore Trent Gordon to safety prior to what would have been the start of spring practice. Gordon, a four-star prospect in Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class, played in 14 games over the past two seasons, both on special teams and at cornerback, but Pry said the 5-foot-11, 192-pounder was ultimately a better fit at safety.

“He was a guy with some solid corner credentials and was continuing to develop at that position,” Pry said. “But when we looked around at our personnel boards, at our technique boards, he checked more boxes at the safety position. Which is good for him and good for us. With some guys, it takes a short time to figure that out, some guys it takes us a little bit longer to figure out what their best position is. I think that’s one of the critical things that we can do as coaches, the evaluation piece on a regular basis. Are the guys in our program in the right spots to reach their potential and to help us the most?”

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