Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer is tasked with replacing a pair of starting “Wild Dogs” from last season — Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan — and it appears two possible successors have emerged.
After Penn State spring practice on Wednesday, offensive lineman Ryan Bates was asked who has really challenged him off the edge during camp.
“Shane and Shaka,” the left tackle said without hesitation. Of course, he would be referring to Shane Simmons and Shaka Toney, a couple redshirt freshmen turning heads and making serious pushes for significant time at defensive end.
Simmons, a four-star prospect out of Maryland powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, added nearly 20 pounds while redshirting, bulking up to assume more of an every-down role instead of coming on as just a pass-rusher.
Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda — who, like Saquon Barkley and other veterans, is seeing limited spring reps — has sat back and watched Simmons work. He’s been impressed.
“Coming in, he was a highly touted guy, and you’re really starting to see all those flashes of why he was regarded so high,” Cabinda said. “He’s a guy that’s really coming along.”
The linebacker had praise for Toney, too. A three-star prospect out of Imhotep Prep in Philadelphia, Toney’s speed stands out to anyone with a set of eyeballs.
“His takeoff is one of the best out of all the defensive linemen,” Cabinda added. “He’s getting by tackles off the first two or three steps.”
Of course, while Cabinda is just watching these guys work, Bates has gone up against them one-on-one — and sometimes, getting burned is an occupational hazard.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound tackle learned the hard way last week, getting long-armed by Simmons in practice. Spencer didn’t keep it private, either, posting a video of the play on Twitter.
“He put me on blast,” Bates said laughing.
Sure, maybe it’s a little embarrassing now. But Bates knows soon enough, it’ll be opposing linemen trying to keep Simmons and Toney at bay. And, if both live up to the spring practice hype, Spencer might have a few more videos to tweet out in the fall.