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
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
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
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
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
Yet, without a down having been played, there are still nagging
questions about just how the new-look linebacker corps will
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
Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu, newly named a team captain this
week, was confident the D-line would help keep blockers off the
”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.”