B1G shoes to fill: Penn State

As part of a new series this week, we’re looking into each Big Ten team and how it’s overcoming key departures.

Up next: Penn State


Why: Hull was the leader of this team, the heartbeat of the defense and the Big Ten linebacker of the year. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he would be writing Hull’s name in his Butkus Award ballot, and James Franklin called him one of the nation’s best linebackers. Hull finished with 140 tackles last season; Penn State’s next-leading tackler had 75. So, needless to say, he was a big part of the Nittany Lions’ second-ranked total defense.

Replacement candidates: Ben Kline (6-2, 238, RS-Sr.), Nyeem Wartman (6-1, 243, RS-Jr.), Gary Wooten (6-2, 239, RS-Jr.)

The skinny: James Franklin made it sound as if this was an open competition but, truthfully, it would be shocking if anyone but Wartman started in the middle. Wartman was a starter at outside linebacker the last two seasons and finished second on the team in tackles in 2014. PSU could elect to keep Wartman outside but, with the emphasis that defensive coordinator Bob Shoop places on the middle, it’s likely that he’ll want an experienced presence there.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Donovan Smith, LT

Why: Smith was the only regular returning starter on the line in 2014 and, had he not declared early for the NFL draft, would’ve once again been the most experienced lineman in 2015. He was often criticized for never living up to his potential and not being a hard worker, but he was still arguably the best lineman on this team. He was incredibly important last year because of the Nittany Lions’ depth issues, and he won’t be easy to replace -- mostly because an inexperienced player will have to take his spot.

Replacement candidates: Albert Hall (6-4, 296- RS-Jr.), Paris Palmer (6-7, 278, Jr.), Chance Sorrell (6-5, 285, RS-Fr.)

The skinny: This is more of a competition between Palmer and Sorrell and, recently, Palmer was working with the first team during spring practice. Palmer enrolled in January and was ranked as ESPN’s second-best junior-college prospect at the offensive tackle position. Sorrell redshirted last season and was the first player who committed to Franklin at Penn State. Franklin would prefer to nail down a starting line sooner rather than later, but the situation at left tackle is fluid.