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April 25, 2014
Wartman key to linebacker success
The message was clear enough.
New Penn State head coach James Franklin met with the media in early April, just days before his Nittany Lions would take the field for the Blue-White Game, and linebackers were among the topics of discussion.
Though middle linebacker Glenn Carson had graduated and would be pursuing a career in the National Football League, in Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell, the Nittany Lions return three linebackers who started at least one game during the 2013 season. Further, among the trio with starting experience and recovering Ben Kline, there are a combined 20 returning starts and 37 games played from the 2013 season at linebacker.
Still, aside from the early-and-often glowing remarks about Hull, Franklin had yet to be committal about the prospects for starting at either of the outside linebacker positions.
Said Franklin, "It's still early. Mike Hull, like I mentioned, has jumped out to me. The other guys, it's still an evolution or wait and see right now. We'll have a better idea after watching the spring game to see how they compete, but I don't think those positions have been solidified at this point, and I would say that across the board.
"I want these guys to compete. At the end of spring, we'll look at it and see where we anticipate guys coming into fall camp, but there's very few spots that I feel are solidified at this point."
Part of the issue in evaluating Wartman, of course, was in his absence at times through the course of spring practice due to a nagging ankle injury.
Sidelined for the Blue-White Game, Wartman was a guy who new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop explained he "saw some" of, but was still young and continuing to develop.
That may have explained some of Wartman's comments late that Saturday afternoon, relaying the task at hand as he and his Nittany Lion teammates transition from spring practice into a very, very important few summer months.
"Right now, no spot is given on this team," he said. "You have to work for everything. Right now, I'm just going to put my head down and get to work and just try to better myself and make myself better for the team. No spots are guaranteed in this profession and sport."
That's not to say that Wartman isn't a big part of the Nittany Lions' plans at linebacker, of course. Working as a weakside linebacker this spring, Wartman said he's ready to contribute in whatever way he can following his breakout as a redshirt freshman last year.
Finishing the season with 24.5 tackles in 11 games, including 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and four passes broken up and defended, Wartman was an integral part of Penn State's defense throughout 2013. Now that Shoop has taken over for John Butler, Wartman said that not much has changed from the defense Ted Roof installed two years ago, but one overriding factor continues to take precedence to the team's future success.
In a word: Health.
"Of course we have to stay healthy. We understand that, but as a whole, I think we're all just worrying about - we know at any given time somebody can go down," he said. "This is a sport where you gotta put your body on the line, and that's what all of us try to do as linebackers. So we know that injuries can happen and we have depth issues, but we still believe that we can be a good team with however many people we've got.
"We're not really worried about that because we're just trying to play hard because when you play timid, that's when you get hurt."
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