Penn State linebacker Manny Bowen, who was twice suspended before being kicked off the team in December, is back on the team.
The senior linebacker appeared on the official roster handed out by team officials Saturday afternoon, as the media room opened to reporters attending the Nittany Lions’ annual media day.
Penn State head coach James Franklin — who declined to acknowledge if Bowen would be back at last month’s Big Ten media days — said bringing back Bowen isn’t rooted in the Nittany Lions’ fluid situation at linebacker.
“Really, I don’t want any decisions that we make to be need-based... I want to do things because they’re the right things to do,” Franklin said. “We created stipulations for Manny to achieve from the time he left the program. And if he lived up to his end of the bargain, he’d have an opportunity to earn his way back on the roster.
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“The biggest part of that is, Manny graduates in December. We felt like this plan was going to be the best opportunity to graduate in December. We didn’t make it easy on him. I was surprised when he said he wanted to grind this thing out. The easy thing would have been to transfer.”
Bowen was suspended prior to the Rose Bowl, missed the final three regular-season games last year and was kicked off the team, along with wideout Irvin Charles, just days before the Fiesta Bowl. Outside of a “violation of team rules,” a reason for Bowen’s dismissal was never offered.
Bowen — a senior with 21 starts and 137 tackles to his name — is a significant addition to Brent Pry’s defense. Bowen should be the clear front-runner to fill Jason Cabinda’s shoes at starting middle linebacker.
Franklin said in Chicago that the Nittany Lions’ starting MIKE must be a “problem solver” and “eraser”; without Bowen, Penn State would have needed former walk-on Jan Johnson, redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks, true freshman Micah Parsons or classmate Jesse Luketa to step up into that role.
Now, Franklin isn’t ready to anoint Bowen as Cabinda’s replacement. Not yet. But having him in the mix is a positive for the Nittany Lions’ defense.
“I can’t tell what his role on the team is going to be like. To be honest, I have no idea,” Franklin added. “Would I like to have him from a football perspective, yeah. But I don’t know how this whole thing is going to play out.”