REPLACING ONE OFthe nation's top defensive players has probably never been easier. To fill thevoid left by the graduation of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, the BednarikAward winner in 2005 and '06, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley hassimply moved Dan Connor over from the weak side. A Bednarik finalist himselflast season, the 6' 3", 233-pound senior needs 99 tackles to breakPosluszny's freshly minted school record of 372, and he seems more than readyto join the ranks of Linebacker¬†U's most distinguished alumni. "If heand Paul hadn't had numbers on their jerseys, you'd have had a hard timetelling them apart," says linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.
Connor's moveinside is the same one that Posluszny made last fall. But while it tookPosluszny several games to adjust to the heavy traffic in the middle, NittanyLions coaches expect Connor to thrive immediately. They are confident becauseConnor has already played the position, having started at middle linebacker asa true freshman in the final three games of the '04 season. (He haddouble-digit tackles in each game.) Rugged and fast, Connor has held all threelinebacker spots at one time or another. "His football sense isamazing," says junior linebacker Sean Lee, who returns as the strongsidestarter. "He seems to know where a play is going to end up. He doesn't haveto run, just wait."
Replacing Connoron the weak side is more complicated. The status of junior Tyrell Sales is upin the air as a result of his participation in an off-campus fight last April.(Felony trespassing, disorderly conduct and harassment charges were laterdropped.) If Sales is unavailable, the job will probably go to redshirtfreshman Bani Gbadyu.
Luckily for theNittany Lions, Connor and his mates will be able to focus on run supportbecause the secondary could again be one of the Big Ten's best. It's led byjunior Justin King, who, with his 4.3¬†speed, has developed into one of thecountry's top cover corners. Junior strong safety Anthony Scirrotto, who ledthe Big Ten with six interceptions last year, is a question mark, however. Hewas not allowed to attend summer school after his arrest in connection with thesame fight in which Sales was involved, but school officials readmittedScirrotto earlier this month. (He faces an October trial on multiple charges,including burglary, criminal trespassing and simple assault, to which he haspleaded not guilty.) If Scirrotto is unable to play, it will be a major blow tothe defense. "The bottom line is that the pressure's going to be on thelinebackers more than in any other year since I've been here,"says¬†Connor.
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
COACH: Joe Paterno
2006 RECORD: 9-4 (5-3¬†in¬†Big¬†Ten)
FINAL AP RANK: 24
Offense 7, Defense 7
WR Deon Butler (Jr.)
Leading receiver heads fast group of wideouts
FS Tony Davis (Jr.)
Physical player makes the move from corner
QB Anthony Morelli (Sr.)
Set a school record for completions last year
Sept. 1 FLA. INTERNATIONAL
8 NOTRE DAME
22 at Michigan
29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 IOWA
20 at Indiana
27 OHIO STATE
Nov. 3 PURDUE
10 at Temple
17 at Michigan State
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Connor seems ready to join the ranks ofLinebacker¬†U's most distinguished alumni.
Jay LaPrete/AP (KING)
After shining on offense as a freshmen, the fleet-footed King is now the leaderof a secondary that's expected to be one of the best in the Big Ten
Rob Tringali/SportsChrome (CONNOR)
Connor could become Penn State's top tackler.
Jim Kirchner/Icon SMI (Mascot)