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Penn State Football

Penn State: Defense Poised for Big Year

Manny Diaz November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

UNIVERSITY PARK — It seems all throughout the preseason, somebody from Penn State football is being placed on an award’s preseason watch list.

Any team could expect that much when expectations are as high as they are for Penn State, who was ranked seventh in the preseason coaches poll. (The Associated Press poll breaks Monday.)

Penn State’s defensive players have 10 nominations for preseason watch lists, including linebacker Abdul Carter and cornerback Kalen King each being on three.

Add that with the return of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is one of the big names in college football as far as assistant coaches go, and it’s easy to see why the Penn State defense is so highly regarded.

The PSU defense itself could have at least a couple first-round picks — King and defensive end Chop Robinson — in next year’s NFL Draft.

It probably helps that in practice Robinson goes against offensive tackle Olu Fashanu, who could have been a first-round pick this past year and is projected as a top pick in 2024.

“My opinion, we have the best defense in the country,” Fashanu, who also admitted the battles with Robinson in practice can be brutal, said. “Not only from a talent perspective, but just the amount of work they put in. It’s just a testament to Coach Diaz and his work.”

Robinson is on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given annually to college football’s best defensive player, along with King and Carter.

“I think we’re at the point now where we’re great, but what is going to take us to that elite level?” Carter said. “That’s what we’re trying to find.”

Along with the Nagurski, Carter is also on the watch list for the Butkus Award (best linebacker) and the Lott IMPACT Trophy (Defensive IMPACT player of the year; IMPACT is an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, and Tenacity).

King was placed on watch lists for the Nagurski, Lott IMPACT Trophy and the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back). Linebacker Curtis Jacobs joined Carter on the Butkus Award list.

So for Diaz and Co., what’s the secret to balancing a defense with this much talent?

“It’s not about putting the cape on and doing insane things when you’re extremely talented,” Diaz said. “You make simple things look extraordinary.”

Whether the defense that led the Big Ten in sacks last season becomes a catalyst for a special 2023 remains to be seen, but Diaz believes there’s the potential for big things.

“I really think from a standpoint of what it takes to play championship defense at all three levels, I think we’re doing a heck of a job,” Diaz said. “That’s all you can do is stack recruiting classes on top of each other, and pretty soon you have a team that’s ready to challenge for shiny objects.”

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