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Smeltzer’s 7: Penn State Defensive Players to Watch in Blue-White Game

Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Abdul Carter (11) November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

Penn State fans, Blue-White weekend is almost here. These are seven players to watch on Penn State’s defense Saturday. Let’s get into it.


Rojas was Penn State’s highest-rated defensive signee of the 2023 recruiting cycle and he’s been the most talked about this spring. Coach James Franklin told reporters after a Tuesday practice that Rojas had gained 29 points since arriving on campus in January. That revelation, plus Rojas’s hype coming in, plus the impact fellow linebacker Abdul Carter made as a true freshman last season has fans excited about what the kid from Fairfax, Virginia, will do. Penn State already has a star wearing No. 13 on offense in Kaytron Allen. Rojas, who also wears that number, could be a star, too, and it might come fast.


The past two seasons, Penn State’s had a clear anchor at safety. In 2021, Jaquan Brisker played his way to All-America status. When Brisker moved on to the NFL, Penn State fans expected Ji’Ayir Brown was going to become the man at safety, and he did. ‘Tig’ will be getting drafted later this month.

This year, Penn State’s top safety isn’t as clear-cut, but Reed would probably be the betting favorite. Like Rojas is this season, Reed was Penn State’s second-highest rated defensive signee of the 2021 recruiting cycle. He got a lot of playing time late in his freshman season and continued to process in Year 2. Now, he could well be Penn State’s next top stud at safety.


Reed’s classmate, Wheatley, might not be Penn State’s best safety, but he’s might be it’s most electric one. He was Penn State’s “takeaway king” last spring and continued to make big plays in the regular season, finishing with two interceptions and a forced fumble. Whether Wheatley will start as safety is up in the air. The team returns players in the secondary such as Reed, Keaton Ellis and Johnny Dixon. But coordinator Manny Diaz gets everybody involved, so Wheatley will have his chances to shine this fall.

As far as the spring, there won’t be many exciting plays made in the Blue-White game— it’s a scrimmage, after all— but if there is one, Wheatley is a good bet to make it.


It won’t be easy to fill Joey Porter Jr.’s cleats as Penn State’s No. 1 corner. But fans shouldn’t be concerned about it, because King is awesome. He did an excellent job opposite JPJ last season, and passed his first big test as CB1 in the Rose Bowl, picking off Utah QB Cam Rising on Utah’s second offensive possession and helping set up Penn State first score of what turned into a glorious win.

Porter is likely to be the first cornerback in Penn State history selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. If King’s 2023 lives up to expectations, he might follow next spring. King was Penn State’s top-rated defensive signee of the 2021 Class, and he’s lived up to that billing thus far. What will he show Saturday, albeit in a scrimmage? That remains to be seen.


Penn State and its fans will miss PJ Mustipher. He was as big a leader as any for the team over the past few seasons. Mustipher is a big man with a big personality and a big presence, and that’s probably a big reason Beamon flew under the radar last season as a starting defensive tackle.

This year, Beamon’s Penn State’s most established returning interior defensive lineman, and the Blue-White game should be the first time Penn State fans get to look at him in that role. He played excellent football for Penn State at times in 2022.

Can that continue this season, this time as the No. 1 man in the middle?


His name is awesome, and anybody who disagrees is just a hater. But beyond that, Storm Duck could be a solid asset for Penn State this season. The UNC transfer is coming off an all-ACC campaign and should be in the mix to start at corner opposite King. Penn State has a deep secondary, but dudes will need to step up to account for the losses of Porter and Brown. Duck, pun fully intended, fits the bill. It’s not 100 percent certain whether or not Duck starts Week 1, but as mentioned above, Diaz gets everybody involved, so he’ll have his chances to shine both Saturday and in the fall.


Not much to say here. Carter will say everything for me on the field this season. I firmly believe he’ll be the best player on Penn State’s defense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the best player on this football team period in 2023. Any chance to watch him is a treat, scrimmage or real game.

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