Penn State has been hit with a good bit of bad news over the past several days.
Since Saturday’s Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas, Special Teams Coordinator Joe Lorig left for Oregon. Michael Hazel, a key behind-the-scenes contributor who had been with coach James Franklin since the Vanderbilt days, left for Virginia Tech. The Nittany Lions also lost their left tackle when Rasheed Walker declared for the NFL Draft.
Nittany Lion fans deserved some good news, and they got it Tuesday afternoon when defensive tackle PJ Mustipher announced via Twitter that he intends to be back in Happy Valley for the 2022 season.
Anybody familiar with the program in any capacity knows that this is a good thing for Penn State. Mustipher established himself as one of the best players on one of the country’s best defenses before going down with a season-ending injury Oct. 9 at Iowa. His performance on the field was impressive enough that he earned a second-team all-Big Ten honor despite only playing in five full games.
Mustipher was also equally important to Penn State as a lockerroom leader and has close bonds with fellow defensive tackles/Marylanders Coziah Izzard and D’von Ellies, both of which saw increased roles after Mustipher went down.
A silver lining to Mustipher’s injury was those increased roles for other players. Izzard was perhaps the best example. The redshirt freshman from the famous Dematha High school averaged 17 snaps in the five games before Mustipher went down and 51 in the eight games after.
With graduate transfer Derrick Tangelo done with college football, it isn’t entirely clear who will play alongside Mustipher in Manny Diaz’s first Penn State defense.
Izzard is certainly an option, and Ellies, who has known Izzard since middle school, has will be in the mix as well. Additionally, Jordan van den Berg (42 snaps) Amin Vanover (26 snaps) and Fatorma Mulbah (15 snaps) each got some playing time in the Outback Bowl and should still be in the fold for next season.
There’s also Hakeem Beamon, a redshirt sophomore who didn’t play in 2021 due to injury. In 2020, Beamon played in eight of Penn State’s nine games and should be able to compete for playing time in 2022. Penn State has solid depth at defensive tackle, and that depth becomes stronger with Mustipher back.
Elsewhere on the defensive line, Nick Tarburton figures to be back for 2022 and Penn State will hope to get Adisa Isaac back as well. Isacc, who lost his junior season to injury, appeared in 20 games between 2019 and ’20. If he’s healthy, it’s presumed he has a good chance of starting at defensive end opposite Tarburton.
If he’s healthy again, Mustipher will provide leadership off the field and quality play on it, and that will be a big boost to the Lions this coming fall.