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14 Penn State
Mark Beech
August 20, 2007
All around Happy Valley, there are smiles about the defense
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August 20, 2007

14 Penn State

All around Happy Valley, there are smiles about the defense

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REPLACING ONE OF the nation's top defensive players has probably never been easier. To fill the void left by the graduation of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, the Bednarik Award winner in 2005 and '06, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has simply moved Dan Connor over from the weak side. A Bednarik finalist himself last season, the 6' 3", 233-pound senior needs 99 tackles to break Posluszny's freshly minted school record of 372, and he seems more than ready to join the ranks of Linebacker�U's most distinguished alumni. "If he and Paul hadn't had numbers on their jerseys, you'd have had a hard time telling them apart," says linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.

Connor's move inside is the same one that Posluszny made last fall. But while it took Posluszny several games to adjust to the heavy traffic in the middle, Nittany Lions coaches expect Connor to thrive immediately. They are confident because Connor has already played the position, having started at middle linebacker as a true freshman in the final three games of the '04 season. (He had double-digit tackles in each game.) Rugged and fast, Connor has held all three linebacker spots at one time or another. "His football sense is amazing," says junior linebacker Sean Lee, who returns as the strongside starter. "He seems to know where a play is going to end up. He doesn't have to run, just wait."

Replacing Connor on the weak side is more complicated. The status of junior Tyrell Sales is up in the air as a result of his participation in an off-campus fight last April. (Felony trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment charges were later dropped.) If Sales is unavailable, the job will probably go to redshirt freshman Bani Gbadyu.

Luckily for the Nittany Lions, Connor and his mates will be able to focus on run support because the secondary could again be one of the Big Ten's best. It's led by junior Justin King, who, with his 4.3�speed, has developed into one of the country's top cover corners. Junior strong safety Anthony Scirrotto, who led the Big Ten with six interceptions last year, is a question mark, however. He was not allowed to attend summer school after his arrest in connection with the same fight in which Sales was involved, but school officials readmitted Scirrotto earlier this month. (He faces an October trial on multiple charges, including burglary, criminal trespassing and simple assault, to which he has pleaded not guilty.) If Scirrotto is unable to play, it will be a major blow to the defense. "The bottom line is that the pressure's going to be on the linebackers more than in any other year since I've been here," says�Connor.

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