Penn State position analysis: Linebacker

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Jason Cabinda answers questions during media day at Penn State on Aug. 5.

Spotlight on: Jason Cabinda

Cabinda, who has played at 245 to 250 pounds as Penn State’s middle linebacker, is down to 234 for his final season, and coach James Franklin likes Cabinda’s commitment to playing more quickly without any loss of physicality, calling him “a sideline-to-sideline guy rather than a tackle-to-tackle” guy. Cabinda’s productivity is outstanding. Even though he missed five games last season with an unspecified injury to his left hand, Cabinda finished third on the team in tackles with 81. In his first game back after the injury, he contributed 13 tackles to the upset of No. 2 Ohio State, including a sack of J.T. Barrett on the Buckeyes’ final drive. His experience, enthusiasm, leadership and knowledge of the defense are of primary importance to the Nittany Lions.

In the wings: Manny Bowen, Koa Farmer

Bowen, a junior, was fifth on the team in tackles last year with 68 and tied for second in tackles for loss with 8 1/2, with his best performance a 12-tackle night in the Ohio State upset. His season ended early, however, when he was suspended the week before the Rose Bowl for an unspecified violation of team rules. Franklin said he’s “a huge fan” of Bowen and looks for him to have another successful season.

Farmer, the only Californian on Penn State’s roster, signed with the Nittany Lions as a 200-pound safety. The redshirt junior now is a 231-pound linebacker who is learning more about blocking schemes and tackling better without sacrificing much, if any, speed. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry calls him “a great worker, and an old head out there,” a reflection of his approach to practice.

Moving on up

Coaches intended to sit Cam Brown last year in his first season on campus, but injuries at linebacker prompted coaches to rip up his redshirt during the season’s second game, against Pitt. Two weeks later, he posted 10 tackles, most by a Penn State freshman linebacker in six years. He also blocked a punt against Ohio State. In other words, the coaches though they had something in the 6-foot-5, 222-pound Brown, and think he will continue to grow into the position.

In play to play

Junior Jake Cooper (Archbishop Wood), who played in five games and missed the last six with a shoulder injury last season, is ready to return. Fifth-year senior Brandon Smith, who played in three games his first two seasons, was pressed into service and blossomed as a reliable player in the middle, and tied for the team lead in interceptions with two. Redshirt sophomores Jarvis Miller, who moved from safety to linebacker early last season, and Jan Johnson, who wrestled for Penn State in 2016, will contend for more playing time.