After an offseason during which he bulked up to 280 pounds to prepare for a move to defensive tackle, Curtis Cothran found himself buried on Penn State's depth chart at the start of the 2016 season.
But Cothran, a redshirt junior who played his high school ball at Council Rock North, kept working and got his reward this week when he was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart for Saturday night's "White Out" game against second-ranked Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.
"We think Curtis is doing some nice things for us," Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Tuesday. "We just feel like Curtis is earning the opportunity to step in there and be the starter."
Cothran played in all 13 games last season as a 259-pound backup defensive end. Following the loss of three defensive tackles - Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Tarow Barney - to the NFL, Cothran was moved to the interior to improve the numbers there.
When asked on Aug. 30 why Cothran's name did not appear on the initial depth chart of the season, Franklin replied, "He's still in the mix. He will have an opportunity throughout the season to earn a bigger role."
Cothran made his 2016 debut on Oct. 1 against Minnesota and also played the following week against Maryland.
Offensive line shuffle
After having a bye week to think about it, Franklin said the offensive line personnel will remain the same, with redshirt junior Brendan Mahon moving from left tackle to right tackle and senior Paris Palmer taking over on the left side.
The move was necessitated by an injury to right tackle Andrew Nelson in the Maryland game.
"I think Mahon is playing really well right now, so we're pleased with him," Franklin said. "He's done a nice job for us, really all season. Paris has played a lot of football, not necessarily this year but has played a lot of football for us."
Palmer, who played his first two years in junior college before going to Penn State, started 11 games last season but had seen limited time this year.
Franklin said true freshman Will Fries had been moved up to second-team behind Palmer and could see his first varsity action on Saturday, thus burning his redshirt.
Franklin said one of the keys to defeating Ohio State is explosive plays, and both teams are capable in that area.
Through six games, the Nittany Lions have had 35 offensive plays of 20 or more yards compared to 34 by the Buckeyes. Sixteen such plays for Penn State have come in its last two games, against Minnesota and Maryland.
"They are a big-play team," Franklin said. "We have to limit their explosiveness, and we have to create big plays, which is something we've done a pretty good job of all year long. We need to continue to build on that."