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.
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."
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,"