Penn State could get LB reinforcements for Ohio State game

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Penn State's Brandon Bell on the move.

The good news that emerged Tuesday from Penn State's bye week was the possibility that Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, two of the team's starting linebackers on opening day of the 2016 season, could return for Saturday night's "whiteout" game against No. 2 Ohio State at Beaver Stadium.

It's not a certainty that one or both will be back, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin cautioned. They have to be cleared by the team's medical personnel and, if and when they are, the reality is they haven't played in a long time.

Cabinda, the team's leading tackler last season, finished with a game-high 11 stops in the opener against Kent State but suffered an undisclosed injury during the subsequent week of practice and hasn't played since. Bell, who starred in high school at Oakcrest in South Jersey, left the field during the Pittsburgh game and has not seen any further game action.

"We're excited about the possibility of having them back and you think about their experience," Franklin said at his weekly teleconference. "But you also have to say, these guys haven't played. They haven't practiced. They haven't been in games for a number of weeks. To think that they are just going to be able to jump back in and be the type of players they were when they left, I don't know if that's realistic."

Franklin said the fact that both Cabinda and Bell are veterans means they won't need as many practice reps to become re-acclimated as younger players.

But he added that their potential return could go the other way, too.

"Depending on what the medical staff says," he said, "and how much they are going to be able to practice and how much they are going to be able to do, is really going to decide what we even do with them. It may even be a nonfactor this week."

Penn State (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) has been saddled with injuries at linebacker all season. Nyeem Wartman-White, another starter in training camp, and Jan Johnson are out for the season. Sophomore Jake Cooper (Archbishop Wood) has been sidelined the last two games, although there is a chance he could return against Ohio State (6-0, 3-0), Franklin said.

Getting Cabinda, Bell, and Cooper back will certainly help against the Buckeyes and a rushing attack that averages 300 yards per game, fourth in the nation, behind junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has been the key to Ohio State's wins over Penn State in each of the last two years.

The Buckeyes, playing for the third time under coach Urban Meyer in a "whiteout" game, give the Lions the opportunity to play an undefeated team before a sellout crowd of more than 107,000 and a prime-time national television audience.

Franklin doesn't change his week-by-week approach for any opponent, regardless of how good or how bad, and that's especially true with Ohio State.

"That they don't peak too early in the week or they don't get too emotionally high too early in the week or run out of gas on Saturday - consistency in behavior, consistency in play - that's what we try to do all the time," he said. "They understand how big this game is.

"They see it all over social media and everything else and walking around town and on campus and from their families and ticket requests and all those things. They get it."

Much of the excitement will be provided by the fans. Franklin said he wants the stadium "to be the most difficult environment in the history of college football come Saturday night."

"We need everybody in the stadium screaming and hollering," he said. "It's no different than the election; every vote matters. And it's the same way in the stadium. Every clap, every yell, every scream, matters."

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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