STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State lacking linebackers is like a carpenter running out of nails.
How can that happen?
Over the years Penn State had made a name for itself — Linebacker U. — by producing one star linebacker after another, from Jack Ham to Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington to Sean Lee, just to name a few.
Coach James Franklin begins his first preseason camp with the Nittany Lions with one potential star linebacker in Mike Hull holding down the middle, and lots of unproven players on the second level of the defense.
"Each guy has a different skill set that they're really good at," linebackers coach Brent Pry said Monday, during Penn State's media day. "Maybe weak in some other areas but really strong in some. We've got to develop those weaknesses and we've got to find a way to maximize their strengths and get them on the field in the right place.
"They're still young to where maybe they're not complete linebackers. We're trying to get them there as quickly as we can. We do that and I think we'll have a pretty good group."
Penn State is still digging out from under NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Scholarship limitations have left the roster thin and inexperienced heading into this season, with offensive line and linebacker the hardest hit.
Sophomores Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman will get first crack at holding down the linebacker spots around Hull. Both played last season, but will need to take big steps foward in 2013. Highly touted freshmen Troy Reeder and Jason Cabinda will have the opportunity to get on the field sooner rather than later, but it's not an ideal situation.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop sees another way around the potential linebacker problems for Penn State.
Like so many teams in college football these days, the Nittany Lions are using more defenses with extra safeties and cornerbacks to combat spread offenses that feature three, four and sometimes five receivers split wide.
"In today's game, we've toyed around and tinkered with playing a third safety, a 4-2-5 package," Shoop said. "The star position, that field linebacker, that could be a number of different people depending on what the situation calls for."