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Lions defensive line deals with departures

9/17/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick would love to line up alongside Jerome Hayes and Devon Still on Saturday against Temple, but he knows it's not going to happen.

Odrick would be happy to be part of a tackle rotation that included Phil Taylor and Chris Baker, but it's not to be. And though Odrick and the other Nittany Lions defensive linemen would welcome back suspended starters Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma in a heartbeat, they know they can't count on them returning. Evans and Koroma both face charges of marijuana possession after police searched their apartment on Sept. 2.

"That's our whole mindset with the D-line and the whole team," Odrick said. "We had to say, 'Alright, we can't sit here and mourn our losses.' We have to move on and keep going with what we have. ... That's going to be the mindset even when people go down with injuries. You're sad to see them go and you'd love to have them around, but that's just part of the game."

After entering preseason camp as one of the team's deepest units, the Lions defensive line has been plagued by major injuries (Hayes, Still), dismissals (Taylor, Baker) and suspensions (Evans, Koroma). But the group has held its ground thanks to players like Odrick, who has six tackles and a sack this season.

Penn State is allowing just 64.3 rush yards per game (2.2 ypc), which ranks second in the Big Ten and 16th nationally. Though defensive end Josh Gaines is the only projected preseason starter still on the field, the team has gotten contributions from Aaron Maybin, who leads the Big Ten with four sacks, and several others.

The line's ability to build depth before the rash of departures has helped it survive the personnel losses. Though Odrick wasn't a projected starter, he started seven games last fall before a dislocated right ankle ended his season.

"When we have a good amount of players that can rotate and play at the same level with high intensity, it's not like we have [clear-cut] starters," Odrick said. "It's not really about being a starter. It's how much you contribute when you get in the game."

The long-term status of Evans and Koroma has not been determined, and Penn State recently moved Mike Lucian from offensive guard to defensive tackle. Odrick said Lucian, who should return soon from an ankle injury, readjusted quickly after playing on the defensive line from 2004-06.

"The first day they moved him over, he was doing technique moves that some guys on the D-line can't do now," Odrick said. "That shows his seniority."

Odrick expects bigger contributions from reserves like Tom McEowen and Jack Crawford, a 248-pound freshman defensive end. But the lack of available bodies could hurt the surging Lions when Big Ten play begins next week against Illinois.

"I'm very concerned," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "It's like every week we get another guy banged up on that defensive line. We're really thin there. I am concerned, but it's a credit to the defensive coaches and the kids that somebody else rises to the occasion.

"We lost five, six kids, people who could play against anybody we're going to play against this year. But the ones that are left are fighting like dogs to get to be good enough."