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Blue-White Game Players to Watch Part I: Penn State’s Defense

The 2022 Blue-White game is just two days away, and there are plenty of players and storylines for Penn State fans to follow.

Here are some Penn State players to watch Saturday, starting with coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense.

ZAKEE WHEATLEY

It’s unclear what impact Wheatley will make this fall or what position he’ll play. 

But the 6-foot-2, 191-pound redshirt freshman defensive back from Crofton, Maryland, has impressed his head coach with his play this spring. 

“He did some really nice things for us at corner,” James Franklin said after a late-March practice. “We felt like safety would probably be his best long-term position. But starting him at corner and (getting) the confidence that comes with kinda being out there on an island, I think, is valuable.

“And right now, (Wheatley) just seems to find the football. The ball likes him, he likes the football, and he’s kind of standing out right now.”

Wheatley unofficially leads the team in takeaways this spring with five.

THE LINEBACKERS

Fitting enough for a school nicknamed “Linebacker U,” Penn State’s linebacking corp is particularly interesting heading into the 2022 season.

The only regular starter that’s back is sophomore Curtis Jacobs, who many see as the next Penn State great at the position. 

Jonathan Sutherland is going into his sixth year in the program and has been a safety for most of the first five. Now, he’s listed as the team’s SAM linebacker, and seeing how he’ll transition will be worth tracking. 

Also worth tracking is the position battle at MIKE linebacker between Tyler Elsdon, Jamari Buddin and Kobe King. 

Elsdon, who grew up in Schuylkill County, which is roughly two hours away from State College, has the potential to become a fan favorite.

“There’s a standard,” Elsdon told reporters in a Zoom call last week. “The coaches always say, ‘the standard is the standard.’ There’s no deviation. Being from PA, too, being from (Linebacker U), being from Pennsylvania, playing at Penn State, there’s a weight on your shoulders almost. There’s a lot of pressure, but I think, at the end of the day, there’s guys that came through here, and everyone has their own story. The thing about LBU is you can come from anywhere. It’s just when you go on the field, supporting each other and making plays.”

ZANE DURANT

Durant didn’t come to Penn State with as much fanfare as Allar or Singleton, and isn’t even Penn State’s most hyped defensive line recruit from this class. That title belongs to five-star defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton, who will arrive in Happy Valley this summer.

But Durant, a four-star out of Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida, has turned some heads this spring and has even been compared with a former Penn Stater and current NFL player.

“I’m not a comparing guy, but one guy that I could say that is kind of similar in his playstyle is a guy like Kevin Givens,” defensive end Nick Tarburton said.

Givens, an Altoona native, played at Penn State from 2015-17 and wrapped up his third season with the San Francisco 49ers in late-January

“I see that in him,” Tarburton said. “And that’s a big thing to say, but I think down the road, I think Zane Durant can be a great asset for us and is gonna be a great player.”

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