Thursday, July 24, 2014

NITTANY NOTES: Sorting through the rubble at LB

June 25. 2014 9:16PM

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Pretty much all you need to know about Ben Kline is that he played nearly the entire Minnesota game last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

It may end up being his last game in nearly two years.

Penn State has to rethink some things at linebacker after the 247Sports report on Tuesday that Kline suffered a torn Achilles, almost certainly sidelining him for the 2014 season.

I only write “almost certainly” because Penn State doesn’t plan to be addressing any injuries on James Franklin’s watch. But obviously a torn Achilles at this point wipes out hope of him playing this year. Brad Bars suffered the same injury last July and was immediately declared out for the season.

Regardless, it’s a bleak outlook for a guy who has already fought through multiple surgeries to be in position to fight for a starting job in 2014. On top of that pec injury, he has had multiple operations over the past two years to fix a balky shoulder.

Because of the rehab, he kept out of contact drills during spring ball. That gave most of the first team reps to Valley View’s Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell on the outside, flanking Mike Hull, who is expected to man the middle this fall.

Both Hull and Wartman have missed time with injuries in the past — Wartman ended up sitting out 10 games in 2012 to preserve a year of eligbility. And Bell, despite looking very promising in November against Nebraska and Wisconsin, is still just a true sophomore.

So it’s worth wondering what the depth situation is going to look like with Kline unavailable. The options right now are limited.

Gary Wooten has shown a decent amount of improvement, according to players and coaches during spring ball. But he was limited to almost exclusively special teams play last year.

The only other scholarship linebackers are a pair of incoming true freshmen — Troy Reeder and Jason Cabinda. Of the two, Cabinda would likely be better suited to play on the outside while Reeder would slot in as an inside linebacker. Last-minute signee Torrence Brown could also end up as an outside linebacker.

But the coaches are going to need to be flexible and try out different guys at different spots. Or even use different formations.

We’ve heard a lot about the “star” position that Bob Shoop used at Vanderbilt, but it still remains uncertain just how much it will be used. For those needing a refresher, the spot is sort of a linebacker/safety hybrid. If he had any eligibility left, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong would be the type of guy you’d play at the star. Incoming freshman Koa Farmer has been mentioned as a guy who could end up playing that role.

Possibly a top athlete like Adrian Amos could play the hybrid spot with four other defensive backs on the field along with him. The point is, it’s going to take some more creativity from the staff to replace Kline.

Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk to Kline next month at Lift For Life. Kline is the new president of Penn State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, inheriting the job from Scranton’s own Eric Shrive. Kline is heavily involved in off-field work with the program and will still be around even if he can’t play.

Lift For Life has a chance to break the $1 million mark in total dollars raised for the Kidney Cancer Association since it began in 2003, and Kline should be right there to see it happen.


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