Penn State’s C.J. Thorpe has garnered praise over the last two seasons for his nasty streak, for playing physical until the whistle — and maybe, on a few occasions, a little past it.
But the redshirt freshman was involved in one of the biggest position changes of the year last week, when the promising offensive guard became a defensive tackle in a span of seven days. Head coach James Franklin announced Wednesday night that Thorpe would remain on defense for the rest of the season and would move back to offense after the year.
“We talked about making a move this summer but decided not, because we really feel like he’s got a very, very bright future long-term on the offensive side of the ball,” Franklin said after practice. “But we also have gone back and forth for probably over a year now that he’s probably also a guy that can help us on the defensive side.
“So we made that move. It was pretty impressive on his part. We moved him on (Sept. 23), and he was able to play in the game and he played pretty well. And his role will continue to grow.”
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Thorpe’s move speaks to the issues on the interior of the defensive line. Per Franklin, both true freshman P.J. Mustipher and redshirt freshman Damion Barber were available at defensive tackle on Saturday — but Penn State instead opted to play Thorpe, who had seven days’ experience at the position.
It’s not as if Penn State didn’t have other options at defensive tackle. Although Ellison Jordan is out with an unspecified injury, both true freshmen Judge Culpepper and Aeneas Hawkins did not participate despite being healthy. Redshirt freshman Fred Hansard and redshirt sophomore Antonio Shelton both played again as backups Saturday — but they’ve combined for just 0.5 tackles-for-loss this year.
“We have games like that where we play our starters a lot more reps and we run out of gas in the fourth quarter,” Franklin said, “so we got to do a better job of creating depth so we feel like we can play those guys in those types of games to sustain it. That’s the next step for us, so that was part of the reason for the move.”
Thorpe arrived in Happy Valley last season as a four-star offensive lineman, the nation’s seventh-best guard, according to 247 Sports. He played the first four weeks of 2018 as the backup right guard to Connor McGovern before moving to the other side of the ball.
Franklin still believes he has a lot of potential on the offensive line. But, for now at least, the head coach is hoping Thorpe’s nasty streak translates well to defense.
“It was impressive enough that he was able to learn it all in a week from a scheme standpoint,” Franklin said. “But, fundamentally, he’s way behind. Drive-blocking on offense is way different than the techniques and fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball.”