Penn State linebacker Nate Stupar finished the 2010 season with 73 total tackles, enough for third best on the squad.
This spring, Stupar did not make the same impact.
Sidelined by a hamstring injury, Stupar was forced to the sidelines, opening the door for true sophomore linebacker Khairi Fortt to step in at the Sam OLB spot. What impact will the injury have on the competition there?
Blue White Illustrated continues its multi-part series with linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden here to find out!
BWI: You have a guy coming back in Nate Stupar that has been around forever. He had some hamstring issues this spring, though. Where is he at physically and what can be expected of him next season?
Vanderlinden: I think Nate has made steady progress since he's been here. It's a shame for him that he wasn't able to practice this spring because like everybody else, he needed to continue to develop in some areas more than others. So, we'll just have to pick up and jump into the fall. There's nothing we can do about the missed spring, we'll just have to pick up and move into the fall.
BWI: Is Nate's misfortune a blessing for Khairi Fortt?
Vanderlinden: No question. Khairi got to line up with the first unit and take all the snaps and I think he's benefited from that. So, I think that was good for Khairi that he got all that extra work.
BWI: Can he compete with Nate? Is that an open spot?
Vanderlinden: Yeah, I expect him to continue to progress and take another big step forward in the fall. Yeah, I would think that will be a competitive situation.
BWI: He had some stinger problems last year.
Vanderlinden: Yeah, he did. He got hurt right before the bowl game.
BWI: People say that's a concern, especially for a linebacker.
Vanderlinden: Absolutely. But, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny, and Dan Connor all missed games. It's not an uncommon problem with young linebackers just because their body has to continue to develop and get stronger.
Khairi went through the spring without any problems whatsoever and had a couple of really big hits, one of which was in the spring game knocking the ball loose. He had a couple of those in the spring.
BWI: He was flying around.
Vanderlinden: Yeah, and he's got good force. He's got natural shock. Some guys don't have all that shock where he can really uncoil into a ball carrier.
Coach Paterno phrases it as 'shock'. When he hits a guy there's shock. Well, he's got that. And, good timing sometimes as well. So, I expect Khairi, and I think J.T. in the weight room and George in the training room have done a great job of strengthening him and rehabbing him so, I see that as very similar to the earlier guys that I had mentioned that had similar issues when they were young.
BWI: Is there a specific way to utilize his 'shock' value? That it could be an extra benefit for this situation?
Vanderlinden: Well, I think several of our guys have that. Mauti is developing it and Hodges. So, I think there's quite a few of them that have it. Mike Hull, a terrific play he made in the Blue-White Game stripping the ball out and making the tackle. I think Mike Hull is going to be a good player.
BWI: The little we saw of the linebackers, they seemed to be much more aggressive. Is that because they've learned and are now playing the game instinctively?
Vanderlinden: That's a good observation. Yes, I think they're feeling more comfortable with their assignments, which allows them to play faster more aggressive football. I think that's a good observation. I think sometimes that's just their nature, too. Some guys, that's not necessarily their nature, other guys, that is their nature. I think it's their nature. Some of those guys.
BWI: Joe has been very high on Mike Hull this spring.
Vanderlinden: Yeah, I think Mike's a good young prospect and I think he'll play a lot of football for us next year.
BWI: He's not real big. Has that been a drawback or not?
Vanderlinden: You know, he's as big as Paul and I think Dan and certainly Sean when they first started playing. They were all around 220. When you think about those other guys, they were all about 220 their first year of playing and that's what Mike is.
I think those issues are important but they're not critical. Some guys can play. I look again at those early guys, when they played they were all about 220 or a little under their first year of playing.
BWI: How do you identify that 'it' factor for these kids?
Vanderlinden: Well, it shows itself up. Just natural instincts for the ball. It shows.
BWI: From the high school level?
Vanderlinden: Well, sometimes you can tell. But, i think when they get here and you start teaching and playing - who can process the information quickly and who can just feel the ball?
Glenn Carson has that instinct factor. He just finds the football and has a heckuva hitting surface. I think he's going to be a good player as well. It's nice because you don't have to draw a road map to every little scenario.
In football, it's nice when some guys understand those concepts as we talked about earlier and just have a feel for where they fit within the defense but also taking it to the next step and finding the football because every play is a little bit different. It's not all exactly here's where you fit. Sometimes that hole closes and you've gotta improvise or feel the ball carrier.
BWI: Does that give you an opportunity to skip ahead when kids have that instinct?
Vanderlinden: I don't know that I would necessarily refer to it as skipping ahead.
What it does is it makes my job a little easier when you have guys that are first of all passionate, talented enough that are tough but also have some innate instincts to find the football.