You could say that Devon Still got an early start to a potentially big 2011.
In the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, the Penn State defensive tackle had the most productive game of his career. He harassed Florida offensive linemen all day and finished with 3.5 tackles for loss, most by a Nittany Lions player all season.
"That game definitely boosted my confidence," Still said. "It let me know I could go out there and be the dominant player I want to be. I just want to carry over the play I had against Florida into this season."
Penn State wants to return to the days of having a dominant defensive line, and Still could be the starting point for that resurgence. A fifth-year senior who battled injury earlier in his career, he has developed into a steadying force and one of the best defensive tackles in a league that's stacked at the position. Still led the Nittany Lions in both sacks (four) and tackles for loss last year (10). And yet, Penn State's sack leader should probably have more than four all season.
Injuries and inconsistent play have hurt the defensive front. But Still thinks things are on the rise. He likes what he sees out of junior Jordan Hill, who is penciled in as the other starting tackle, and sophomore DaQuan Jones. If Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore can return from their injuries, they will add experience to the defensive end spots.
"I had to fight a lot of double teams last year," Still said. "I'm sure in the beginning of the season I'll see the same amount of double teams. But when teams see what type of player Jordan is or DaQuan is or Jack is, they're going to have to focus on all of them and not just one person."
Still has slimmed down a bit this offseason, dropping about five pounds from his listed weight of 305 last year. He's hoping to start this season around 298 or less because he feels he can do more when he's lighter on his feet. That could be bad news for opponents.
"I'm learning how to play full speed and not take off any plays," he said. "I want to be one of the best defensive linemen to ever come out of Penn State."
But team success means more to Still. After all, despite his great game in the Outback Bowl, Penn State did lose to Florida. He and the defense want to keep those results from repeating.
"We want to be a team that competes for a national championship," he said. "We had a fantastic spring. We just need to push forward through training camp and hope we come out of it a dominant defense."