Brent Pry isn’t the least bit shocked by his defense this season.
And to say he’s not startled by a unit that ranks third nationally in points allowed, third in tackles for loss and 13th in yards per game — that’s noteworthy.
“Surprising? I don’t think so,” Penn State’s defensive coordinator said calmly on a Thursday conference call. “We’ve got a veteran group and expect certain things. To this point, it’s been what we’ve hoped.”
A major reason why Pry possesses that assurance is Penn State’s experience.
The Nittany Lion defense boasts seven senior starters: linebacker Jason Cabinda; safeties Troy Apke and Marcus Allen; cornerbacks Grant Haley and Christian Campbell; and defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran. The non-seniors — linebackers Manny Bowen (12 starts in 2016) and Koa Farmer (two starts), and defensive ends Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholz — appeared in at least 13 of Penn State’s 14 games last season.
Penn State’s starting defense has an average age of 21 years, 9 months and entered 2017 with 119 total starts.
“When you look out there, you know what you’re going to get from everybody that you’re putting on the field,” Pry added. “Sometimes you can’t say that. There’ve been many years like last, where you’ve got guys out there in the rotation and you’re just not sure yet what type of player they’re going to be under the lights, whether it’s an experience factor or you’re still evaluating their skill-set.
“With these guys, we know what we’re getting when we put the first unit out there and the majority of the second unit. That’s unique in its own right.”
Believe it or not, the Nittany Lions could’ve had an even older unit, too. Garrett Sickels forfeited his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, as he and senior Evan Schwan left a couple holes at defensive end.
Pry said filling those gaps “was probably on our mind the most” during the offseason. But Miller and Buchholz, even with Torrence Brown going down and forcing the latter into a starting role, have succeeded with 7.5 combined tackles for loss.
The question at defensive end has been answered — and Pry really didn’t have any concerns about the other nine spots.
Who could blame him? With guys like Allen and Cabinda setting an example, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this unit has thrived in 2017.
“We’ve got some old heads out there who can adjust and work through new formations, tempo, quarterback changes,” Pry said. “They’re very heady, and they’re very experienced.”
“I think that’s paying dividends right now.”