UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State will get a boost on defense as the Nittany Lions prepare for Central Florida this week.
Penn State coach Bill OBrien confirmed linebackers Mike Hull and Ben Kline are back practicing after both players missed last weeks game against Eastern Michigan with unspecified injuries. Although the hard-tackling duo is back at practice, time will tell if either will be able to play against the Knights at Beaver Stadium on Saturday night.
OBrien said both Hull, a junior, and Kline, a sophomore, are likely to play but hinted they would be monitored as the week progresses. Hull sustained an injury early in the first quarter against Syracuse. Penn States stalwart tackler left the game and returned with his right leg taped and braced. He played just three snaps after that before being shut down for the rest of the game.
Kline had offseason shoulder surgery and was day-to-day during the teams training camp. He undertook a heavy workload against the Orange when Hull went down but did not suit up against the Eagles.
Hull is officially listed as possible on the teams injury report while Kline does not appear.
Penn States lack of linebacker depth a concern amongst the coaching staff early on has been buoyed by the play of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong who converted from safety. Hell continue to play in that role, OBrien said.
If Hull can go it will be Hull, (Glenn) Carson and (Nyeem) Wartman more than likely, OBrien said. If Hull has some issues here throughout the week then well go with whoever we have there whether its Obeng or somebody else but Obeng will play and will have the same role in the game just like hes had the past two weeks.
Unlike the past two weeks, Penn State is preparing to face an opponent that will field a myriad of offensive weapons with a talented triggerman at the helm.
Leading the UCF offense is quarterback Blake Bortles. The UCF junior is 12-4 as a starter and is a candidate for the Davey OBrien award, given to the countrys top quarterback.
Hes very, very good, OBrien said of Bortles. Hes a pro prospect.
And he rarely makes mistakes.
Bortles, who was named the Beef OBrady Bowl MVP after UCF beat Ball State 38-17 to cap last seasons 10-4 run, has not thrown an interception in a game since Oct. 27, 2012, and has attempted 217 passes without an interception. Hes complemented by running back Storm Johnson a Doak Walker Award candidate as one of the nations top running backs and a cast of big, physical receivers.
Weve got to be very fundamentally sound and make sure were studying a lot in our playbooks and just doing what we need to do, junior safety Jesse Della Valle said. Hes a great player so we have to be on our A game.
It would help to have Hull, too.
Although hes not a rambunctious personality, Hull has other ways of lifting a defense, senior safety Malcolm Willis said.
You dont technically have to be a very vocal person to lead on our team and his play really shows, Willis said. He leads by example. Hes not really the vocal-type of player like (Michael) Mauti or (Gerald) Hodges was last year, but he makes just as many plays and younger guys, and even the older guys like myself, look up to guys like that who show up on game day and really step up.
While Hull is no lock to play at this point, even if his early-week prognosis looks good, Penn State defenders know they can rely on another linebacker one who has never missed a game in his career. Glenn Carson, who is second on the team with 16 tackles, is set to play in his 41st straight game.
Carsons play has been praised by the coaching staff after each of the Nittany Lions first two games.
Hes a tough guy. Hes improved. Hes quicker, hes faster, hes stronger, OBrien said. He loves playing for Penn State and he believes and I believe that he has a future in football. Hes gone out there in the first two games and done an excellent job of playing tough, physical, Penn State football.
Wartman, a redshirt freshman, has also played physical in the first two games. The physicality has left him with a sore shoulder that required a wrap since the second half of the Syracuse game. Wartman was seen sporting a hefty bag of ice on his shoulder during the Eastern Michigan game.
OBrien is not concerned about Wartmans availability, however, and said the outside linebacker will play.
While not on the teams injury report, OBrien addressed the health situations of a few other players in addition to Hull, Kline and Wartman. Running back Bill Belton is probable with an unspecified injury while safety Ryan Keiser is questionable for the UCF game, OBrien said.
Keiser was knocked out of the Eastern Michigan game early and did not return to action.
Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach has suffered no setbacks from a dislocated finger that forced him to exit the Eastern Michigan game for a few plays. Dieffenbach, in addition to right tackle Adam Gress, are expected to play, too.
My fingers great now, Dieffenbach said. I didnt feel it when it happened. I got up from the pile and the ref looked at me and told me I had to get off the field and I thought had done something wrong and I saw he was looking at my finger and my finger was dislocated. So I had to go off the field and pop it back in and Im good to go.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.