Penn State Football Defensive End Battle About to Intensify

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Penn State Football Defensive End Position Battle About to Heat Up

It has been a roller coaster of an offseason for Penn State Football defensive line coach Deion Barnes defensive end room, losing both 2023 starters Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson to the NFL draft but adding first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Abdul Carter to the room.

While Carter’s addition may fill the second starting spot opposite former five-star Dani Dennis-Sutton, defensive end will still be an intriguing position to watch throughout the spring and fall to see which players are pushing for playing time and how deep the rotation will go this fall. Here is a breakdown of the Nittany Lions‘ defensive end position for the 2024 season.

Penn State Football DE Position Battle

Penn State Football
Penn State Nittany Lions Linebacker Abdul Carter (11) tackles West Virginia Mountaineers Running Back CJ Donaldson Jr. (4) during the first half of the College Football Game between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Penn State Nittany Lions on September 2, 2023, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, PA. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Probable starters

Dani Dennis-Sutton

Former five-star Dani Dennis-Sutton followed in Chop Robinson’s 2022 footsteps, playing the role of the third defensive end while sitting behind older veterans in 2023.

Dennis-Sutton did step in as a starter for three games in 2023, including the Peach Bowl against Ole Miss, with Robinson out with an injury and then opting out of the bowl game. In 13 games in 2023, Dennis-Sutton racked up six tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Dennis-Sutton also made his presence known against Indiana, effectively calling game strip sacking Indiana’s Brendan Sorsby for a safety that ended the Hoosiers’ upset bid in October. Dennis-Sutton is expected to step into a starting role next season with 2023 starters Robinson and Isaac off to the NFL.

Abdul Carter

As a linebacker in 2023, Abdul Carter was one of the most effective pass rushers in the nation, winning 24.8 percent of his pass rush attempts in 2023 (3rd best in the nation). In 2023, Carter earned first-team All-Big Ten honors with 48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception, and a force fumble. In 2024, Carter will transition to defensive end and will presumably take over the second starting position alongside Dennis-Sutton. Moving to defensive end, Carter will have the opportunity to live in opponents backfields and put his pass rushing skills on display and his stats should reflect that at the end of the season.

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Role players fighting for snaps

Jameial Lyons

As a true freshman in 2023, Jameial Lyons flashed the incredible potential that earned him playing time as a true freshman, but also missed time due to injury throughout the season. He finished 2023 with six tackles and a sack in eight games. Lyons will look to take a step forward and should push for the Chop Robinson and Dani Dennis-Sutton third defensive end role in 2024.

Zuriah Fisher

Redshirt senior Zuriah Fisher will have the opportunity to push for playing time in the two-deep this spring after a tumultuous career at Penn State. After beginning at linebacker for the Nittany Lions and transitioning to defensive end, Fisher missed most of the 2022 season with an Achillies injury. Now, fully recovered from his injury, Fisher is looking to carve out a role on the defense in his fifth season on campus. In 2023, Fisher played in all 13 games for the Nittany Lions, recording 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.

Amin Vanover

Its now or never for Amin Vanover heading into his fifth season on campus. In 2023, Vanover played in eight games, recording six tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble.

Smith Vilbert

Penn State fans have seen very little of Smith Vilbert since his masterful three sack performance in the Nittany Lions’ Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas. Since that game, Vilbert has played in only 1 game, not appearing at all in 2023. Heading into 2024, the redshirt senior’s potential and status are a wildcard in this position battle.

Penn State Football, Tom Allen
Tom Allen of the Indiana Hoosiers reacts to a play against the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Young players for the future

There are a few players on the Penn State roster that will see a role in the future with Penn State at defensive end but will likely not play a huge role at defensive end in 2024 barring major injuries. Four-star composite true freshman defensive end Jaylen Harvey was a highly regarded prospect out of the DMV that Penn State was very high on. Redshirt freshman Mason Robinson and Joseph Mupoyi are also seem to factor in to the 2025 plans at defensive end for Penn State, but could play a vital role on special teams and get snaps in nonconference.

Penn State had one of the best defensive lines in the nation in 2023 and has the potential to have another one of the best in 2024. The star potential is there with Dani Dennis-Sutton and Abdul Carter leading the charge. Jameial Lyons is a star in the making and Penn State has a few veterans fighting off younger talent at the position for playing time.

The scheme will be a bit different with Tom Allen taking over as defensive coordinator, but there is still a chance we can see Carter, Dennis-Sutton, and Lyons on the field at the same time on obvious passing downs. Barring injury, Penn State is set to reload well at defensive end even with losing two great talents to the NFL draft.

If you have missed any of the Nittany Central position battle series so far, you can find the breakdowns here for running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, and center

MORE: 4 Things Penn State Must do To Close 2025 with Top-10 Class

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