James Franklin said it wasn’t his defensive coordinator who convinced him to change linebacker Nick Tarburton’s position — it was Tarburton’s body itself.
Tarburton, a four-star freshman linebacker who enrolled in January, moved over to defensive end about a week ago. Franklin said the Pennsylvania product arrived on campus at 263 pounds, went on a diet and lost weight to compete at linebacker but, ultimately, the staff felt that he had a higher ceiling on the line.
“He really did some nice things, and I think he could play linebacker for us,” Franklin told reporters Monday night. “But I think his greatest potential here at Penn State and down the road is at defensive end.
“So he’s already done some nice things for us there, but it was really from the beginning of recruiting him that that was a possibility. His body was going to tell us who he was going to be.”
Either way, Tarburton was facing a likely redshirt this season. He would’ve been fortunate to earn a spot as a second-team ‘backer, and defensive end is loaded with young talent such as sophomore Yetur Gross-Matos, along with redshirt sophomores Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney.
In other words, there’s time to bring Tarburton along. And Franklin said he told Tarburton from the first day Penn State offered him a scholarship “that we would give him a chance at linebacker, but he could end up being a defensive lineman for us as well.”
Still, so far, Tarburton’s teammates remain a fan of the change.
“He’s doing very well,” offensive tackle Ryan Bates said after Monday’s practice. “Of course, he doesn’t know a lot of stuff at D-end because he just recently moved over because he’s been at linebacker the first 11, 12 practices of spring ball. So he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s a football player.
“He’s someone who’ll come off the line and hit you as hard as he can. He’s the kind of guy who has no regard for his body. He’s going to hit you as hard as he can no matter if it hurts him or not — and I love people who play like that.”
Fans will see Tarburton compete at his new position for the first time Saturday in the annual Blue-White Game. If Tarburton does wind up redshirting, that will likely be the last time fans see him on the field until 2019.
But Bates and Franklin feel the teenager still has the potential to impress.
“He’s got a motor,” Bates added. “He plays through the whistle, which I love. He’s going to be a good player; he’s going to be a good defensive end.”