Zettel breaks through on Penn State's defensive line

Penn State defensive end Anthony Zettel. (Bill Kostroun/AP)

If Anthony Zettel had a say in his own position, he’d prefer to play defensive tackle, not defensive end. He thinks his best chance at a future is in the middle of the line. 

Zettel’s not complaining about lining up at end, but he said his mindset and body type — if he were to gain a few pounds — benefit him at tackle. 

“I enjoy moving inside,” Zettel said. “I think the future for me is inside maybe. I can play with lower pads and I don’t have to think as much. I enjoy getting banged around like that, it doesn’t affect me as much.” 

Nevertheless, Zettel has thrived this season at end. His numbers — four TFLs, two sacks and an interception — have often overshadowed those of his teammate and former Big Ten freshman standout Deion Barnes. 

To wreak so much havoc when he’s on the field, Zettel has been very efficient at getting into the backfield — not just pursuing the run. 

“I’m a high-motor guy, so it’s kind of just from me growing up,” he said. “I was kind of the wild child, just like to get after it. Playing football helps a lot.” 

Zettel said he played a little offense in high school, and that has contributed to his knowledge of opponents’ pass protection schemes. 

Beyond that, Bill O’Brien said Zettel’s raw skills make him such an effective lineman. 

“He makes every play like it’s his last play,” the coach said. “If you noticed against Illinois, he let [quarterback Nathan] Scheelhaase out of the pocket, but he grabbed him by the jersey and sacked him. So he's got strong hands and he's able to hang on and make those tackles or sacks.” 

While growing up, Zettel said he admired the play of current St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Jake Long. More recently, he’s observed the play of former Penn State defensive lineman Tamba Hali. During the summer of his freshman year, Zettel said Hali stopped by Happy Valley to work with him and some of the linemen. 

“He’s got the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Zettel said.