6 for 3: Linebacker U’s new math

Linebacker U. will have a new look this year.

Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull have left Penn State for

the NFL. But unlike the drama this preseason over the 19th-ranked

Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback job, there hasn’t been nearly

as much fuss about the linebackers. It may take twice the number of

players to fill the jobs performed by last season’s trio – for good

reason, in coach Joe Paterno’s mind.

”We’ve got at least five, maybe six kids that are good athletes

who can be good linebackers,” the Hall of Fame coach said this

week. ”I think (the) linebacker situation should be one of our

stronger spots.”

The depth chart lists Nathan Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bany

Gbadyu as the starters for the season opener Saturday versus

Youngstown State. All three have had extensive playing time as

backups, especially Stupar and Gbadyu.

But they may be looking over their shoulders all year to check

when they’ll be replaced.

Sophomore Michael Mauti, thought to be the next big-time ‘backer

at Penn State, is back at 100 percent after missing 2009 with a

right knee injury. He’s behind Stupar on the depth chart at

strongside linebacker.

Another touted sophomore, converted safety Gerald Hodges, backs

up Gbadyu at the other outside position, with redshirt freshman

Michael Yancich the second-stringer behind Colasanti in the

middle.

It’s made for fierce competition for playing time.

”I think the real big difference is the depth that we have. …

We have about five or six linebackers that could be starters at any

time during the season,” Gbadyu said Wednesday. ”Everybody has to

show that they are able to play, and able to play at a high

level.”

For Gbadyu, it’s a chance to shine after coming close earlier in

his career to transferring, in large part because of family

reasons. A native of war-torn Liberia who moved to the United

States when he was 10, Gbadyu and his father and brother ended up

settling in Gaithersburg, Md.

Stupar is a homegrown talent, having gone to high school in

State College and attending Penn State games as a fan. He has

played an important role on special teams.

Colasanti competed for the middle linebacker job with Hull two

years ago, then sat behind him for two seasons. He would have

redshirted last season, but stepped back into rotation after early

season injuries to Lee and Bowman.

”Honestly, I was disappointed having to redshirt. Things

happen, people get hurt,” Colasanti said. ”There were moments

when I was upset, but in the whole scheme of things … I’m playing

college football” at Penn State.

And playing one of the glamour positions at a school with a

recent middle linebacking lineage that has included Jack Ham, Shane

Conlan, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor.

”I’m not trying to over-think about it, or get emotional,”

Colasanti said, ”but it’s going to be an unreal feeling running

out of the tunnel (Saturday) and knowing I’ll be out there making

plays.”

Yet, without a down having been played, there are still nagging

questions about just how the new-look linebacker corps will

perform.

It’s unclear what kind of plans the coaches have for rotating

linebackers, whether as a unit by series, or individually by

down-and-distance situations. When asked, Colasanti likened it to

how Penn State rotates players on the defensive line.

And what happens up front may also affect how well the

linebackers play. While two starters and five others who were part

of the defensive line rotation are back, there’s one big missing

piece in havoc-wreaking tackle Jared Odrick, now with the Miami

Dolphins.

Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu, newly named a team captain this

week, was confident the D-line would help keep blockers off the

‘backers.

”You want to go out there and clog holes for your linebackers

… but you also want to make plays, too,” Ogbu said. ”Either

(way) isn’t bad.”