Penn State defensive tackles ready to lead

Whatever it takes.

According to Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still, this is the motto the Nittany Lions defensive line adopted this spring. D-line coach Larry Johnson had the players repeat those three words every time they broke the huddle in practice.

"[Johnson] really wants to get it out there to us that we have to do whatever it takes to win," Still said. "Whether it's getting our grades, pushing one another on the football field or during workouts, just whatever it takes as a group to get it done, we have to do it."

The message hits home for Still and Penn State's other defensive tackles. Given the amount of uncertainty at the defensive end position, Penn State's interior linemen need to do whatever it takes to elevate their play in 2011.

While everyone still wants to know who starts at quarterback for Penn State this season, the more significant question points to the defensive end position. Pete Massaro's season-ending knee injury early in spring ball meant the Lions went through the session without any proven ends. Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore both spent the spring recovering from injuries, and Penn State had to move DaQuan Jones from tackle to the 5-technique end just to get another body on the edge.

Penn State's ideal solution is to have both Crawford and Latimore healthy and playing at a high level throughout the season. The more realistic hope is to have Still and the other defensive tackles pick up the slack.

"There's a lot of expectations," Still said.

Although most Penn State players would prefer to forget the Outback Bowl loss to Florida, Still uses it as a potential springboard. He recorded a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss and tied for second on the team with seven total stops.

"I watched more tape for the game," he said. "I saw how their blocking schemes were different than what I was getting in the Big Ten. In the Big Ten I was really getting double teamed, and nobody was coming off the block, so I didn't have a chance to make plays. With [Florida], they were hitting double teams but somebody was coming off, which gave me a chance.

"It let me know I can be a dominant player."

After missing the 2007 and 2008 seasons with knee injuries, Still has racked up 15.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons and enters the fall as an All-Big Ten candidate.

"Being injured really took away a lot of my time here at Penn State," he said. "I have to make the best of what I have left."

Penn State also has high hopes for junior Jordan Hill coming out of the spring. Hill played in all 13 games last fall and recorded 36 tackles.

He's expected to slide into the starting spot vacated by Ollie Ogbu.

"Jordan had an outstanding spring," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "Jordan is really going to be a good football player."

The wild card in the group is Brandon Ware. His struggles with both grades and weight are well documented, and he recorded only two tackles last season.

But Ware seems to finally be getting it. He has "slimmed down" to 337 pounds. His talent always has been there, and he showed it in spring ball.

"I've seen Brandon play his best football since he's been here," Still said. "He's just been more focused, and he's starting to learn that his opportunity is coming to an end. That's what I'm going to do, too. I have one more year here, so I know I have to play my hardest."

And do whatever it takes.