A promising start to Nyeem Wartman’s first season at Penn State was interrupted by injury. With spring practice opening in Happy Valley on Monday, he has a shot to pick up where he left off.
Wartman will open the spring working with the first-team defense, giving the former Valley View linebacker an early crack at claiming a starting job for 2013.
The Nittany Lions need to replace a pair of prolific starting linebackers in Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges but have only a handful of scholarship players to compete for the open spots. And for spring ball, that number will be decreased by one.
Lions coach Bill O’Brien told ESPN on Friday that rising sophomore Ben Kline, a second-teamer on the outside last season, will miss the spring session while recovering from shoulder surgery. That opens the door a bit wider for Wartman, who returns from a knee injury suffered early last season.
Wartman had played immediately as a true freshman, opening 2012 as the top backup to Glenn Carson at middle linebacker. In his first game, he blocked a punt and drew praise from O’Brien and the coaching staff.
But when he hurt his knee in the first half against Virginia the next week, it cost him the rest of the season. Wartman was healthy enough to return late in the season, but Penn State elected to hold him out, keeping him eligible for a medical redshirt.
O’Brien would not comment on Wartman’s status earlier this offseason, but when Penn State released its spring roster on Friday, the school listed Wartman as a redshirt freshman for 2013. In that case, Wartman would still retain all four years of his eligibility.
And there’s no better time for him to get back out on the field.
Carson returns for his third season as the starter in the middle. Rising junior Mike Hull is almost certainly a lock for another starting job after playing a key role in 2012, particularly on the Lions’ third-down defense.
That leaves Wartman and Kline as the contenders for the other first-team spot, with Wartman getting the first opportunity.
“We think he’s got a bright, bright future,” O’Brien told ESPN on Friday.
Penn State’s only other scholarship linebacker on the roster for the spring is Gary Wooten, a late addition to last year’s signing class who did not play anywhere in 2011 and redshirted at Penn State in 2012. True freshmen Brandon Bell and Zayd Issah will arrive in the summer.
With the release of the official spring roster update, some players are on the move.
As suspected from offseason workouts, Garry Gilliam will shift from tight end to offensive tackle and Nate Cadogan will switch sides from offensive tackle to defensive tackle.
Malik Golden, who worked with the wide receivers while redshirting last season, is now listed as a defensive back. True freshman Richy Anderson will open his career at receiver after being listed as a running back when he enrolled back in January.
Returning starter Miles Dieffenbach, who has been listed as both a center and a guard in his first three years on campus, is currently grouped with the centers. Dieffenbach started at left guard last season, but the Lions need someone to replace the highly effective Matt Stankiewitch in the middle of the line.
Dieffenbach and Ty Howle have worked at both center and guard during their careers.