St. Augustine Prep grad Austin Johnson primed for playing time on d-line

(Keith Srakocic/AP file photo)

Austin Johnson has yet to play a snap, but Jordan Hill’s graduation has opened up big spot in the middle of Penn State defensive line. 

Austin, a graduate of St. Augustine Prep, looks primed to help replace the pass rusher from whom he’s learned — and still learning — so much. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said Austin has been watching film of Hill during training camp.

“[Austin] is smart. He's really smart,” Larry Johnson said. “He can play with great effort. That's the greatest challenge of any defensive lineman, learning to play with great effort on every snap. You can do it two or three plays, but Jordan Hill played every snap like it was a first snap.” 

However, it’s hard to exhibit “great effort” in training camp with coaches fending off the always-looming threat of injuries. Bill O’Brien certainly won’t let Austin crunch quarterback Christian Hackenberg against the ground.

So for now, he’s saving his bruises for at least 12 opponent quarterbacks.

“It's kind of rough,” Austin said. “You got to hold off a little bit, as long I go full speed.

“One thing I want to work on is finishing to the ball.”

And Austin still has a season of the Dirty Show — Penn State’s practice squad — to boost his resume. Larry Johnson expects his young defensive tackle to showcase all of his tangibles once unleashed. 

“He’s very strong at the point of attack,” coach Johnson said. “And he's a good pass rusher. We just got to find his role and find his niche and let him play.” 

After that, the extent of Austin’s impact is still a guessing game. Penn State’s front four is deeper than the linebacking corps. The post-spring practice depth chart had Austin behind the more experienced redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz. 

If Austin’s going to leapfrog anyone for playing time, Larry Johnson thinks he’s ready to do it now. 

“We haven't gotten into full pads yet, we haven't knocked anyone around,” he said. “We're hoping he's going to part of the depth chart, I'll tell you that. He's going to have to contribute because his time is up. We'll see.”