One of B1G's Best Returning DTs, Mustipher Aiming Higher for Junior Season
Late Wednesday, PFF College compiled a list of the highest-graded returning defensive tackles in the Big Ten ahead of the 2020 season.
Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett topped the group, followed by Jerome Johnson of Indiana four points behind at 80.5 and 76.5, respectively. Just 1.9 points behind Johnson, though, was a name Penn State fans are undoubtedly pleased to see back for his junior season in P.J. Mustipher.
Arguably the league’s third-best returning defensive tackle, at least as graded out by PFF, also was named to the service’s All-Big Ten honorable mention team following the 2019 season. Finishing with 4.5 TFL, a sack, and one forced fumble to go along with his 37 tackles on the year, Mustipher has mixed emotions about his sophomore follow-up to his 2018 debut.
“I’m not going to say it's the season I wanted because, looking back, I'm never where I want to be. I want to continue to get better and become the great player that I know I'm capable of being,” Mustipher told BWI. “But I thought it was a good season. I did a lot of great things, but I still have a lot of things to work on.”
Specifically, Mustipher noted that his pass rush has to improve.
It’s an instinct reflected by the fact that it is by far his lowest graded category among PFF’s criteria, well below his run defense (78.0), tackling (83.6), and overall defensive grade (74.6) at 64.1.
Mustipher is prepared to remedy the shortcoming when he returns to the field.
“I could have been better. I want to be better, and that's why I work so hard because I'm never satisfied with anything I get. Because once you become satisfied with something, then you start to digress and you start to become comfortable. And that's when you don't become better,” Mustipher said. “So whether I got first team or honorable mention, it doesn't matter to me. I want to keep continuing to get better. And this season, I'm definitely out to show that I'm a much better player than I was my sophomore year.”
According to Penn State’s new defensive line coach John Scott Jr., Mustipher is poised to do exactly that.
Having spent just a few weeks around Mustipher in February before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Nittany Lions from ever returning from spring break in March, the time was enough for Scott to understand the value brought to the defensive line room and the program as a whole by the gregarious 6-foot-4, 305-pounder.
“I think PJ's personality is kind of infectious. He wants to learn. He wants to do things the way you want him to do them,” Scott said. “He's a great teammate. He brings a lot of energy to the workout. He's a positive young man. He's a guy you just want to be around all the time. I mean, he's a great young man.
“As far as on the football field, watching his tape, man, I really enjoy how hard PJ plays. PJ plays hard. He's a physical player, he's a smart guy, he gets things. I think he has really good quickness. I think we can take the next step with PJ as we continue to hone in on some of his techniques on some things.”
In the absence of Rob Windsor, the Nittany Lion selected with the 193rd overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft in the sixth round, the program will be counting on it.
Listed this spring as the projected starter on the program’s official depth chart, opposite fifth-year senior Antonio Shelton, Mustipher is penciled in as a three-technique. But, given the nature of the talent competing to also earn a starting position, he isn’t taking anything for granted with the likes of Judge Culpepper and Hakeem Beamon also vying for the opportunity.
“Being a starter is a dream of mine. I think everybody wants to be a starter and I think, for me to be a starter, for myself and everybody else in the room, you have to beat out everybody,” Mustipher said. “There's just not one guy that you have to beat out. You have to compete every day. There's phenomenal talent in that room, and a lot of guys can go on that field and be a starter.
“That's what we do is we compete every day, and that's the great thing about it. We love each other, but at the end of the day, we're going to compete against each other and that's what makes us better and that's what makes us so dominant on game day is that, we're doing it throughout the week, throughout spring ball, throughout the summer. We're competing every day and we're that much better than everybody else because we're competing against each other. Then when it's game time, I don't think anybody can stop us one-on-one.”
Aiming to develop Mustipher’s disruption ahead of the upcoming season, it’s a possibility Scott said he’s looking forward to seeing.
“I think we can hone in on the next level of him taking advantage of his opportunities and just continuing to be more disruptive. I think he can continue to grow and get better in that category,” Scott said. “But he has all the tools. He's got the work ethic. He's got the motor. I'm looking forward to seeing him blossom a little bit.”