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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Taking a leap of faith on Penn State's D-line

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One of the fun parts about this job is discovering the hot-button issues for each Big Ten fan base. 

Fans occasionally will admit weaknesses about their team, but they get extremely defensive about certain things.

For Penn State fans, it's the defensive line. Go ahead and rip on the secondary or question the wide receivers, but stay away from Larry Johnson's group. 

Several times in recent weeks, I've highlighted the defensive end spot as a potential weakness for the Nittany Lions in 2009. After all, Penn State loses starters Aaron Maybin and Josh Gaines, as well as Maurice Evans, who recorded 12.5 sacks in 2007. And every time, I've received several e-mails from fans expressing outrage that I'd question Penn State's defensive line and explaining that the Nittany Lions always find a way to produce solid pass rushers.

Recent history certainly supports those claims, as Penn State molded standout ends like Tamba Hali, Evans and Maybin. There's no doubt Penn State has recruited extremely well to that position. 

So, Nittany Lion Nation, I'm going to take your word for it.

Johnson will find a way this fall to keep Penn State among the Big Ten sacks leaders. Though I have serious doubts about Jerome Hayes coming off two serious knee injuries, perhaps he stays healthy and contributes. England-native Jack Crawford didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but he has "shown a lot of natural ability," according to coach Joe Paterno. Eric Latimore appeared in seven games last fall and recorded a sack.

It's hard to give this group a ringing endorsement, but I'll do my best. I'm a believer.

Just be prepared for an "I told you so" if things don't pan out this fall.