How Key Injury Impacts Penn State Football's Defensive Depth

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home to the latest Penn State Nittany Lions news, updates, insight, and analysis, including in-depth coverage of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball, and much more

Penn State Defensive End Room Takes Injury Hit: What Does This Mean For Depth This Fall?

After missing most of the 2022 season with injury, senior defensive end Zuriah Fisher is once again sidelined indefinitely with injury suffered in spring practice, per Nate Bauer from Blue and White Illustrated.

James Franklin, Penn State Football
Oct 28, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin looks on during the first quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Fisher, a former linebacker who converted to defensive end early in his Penn State career, appeared in all 13 games for the Nittany Lions in 2023, accumulating 17 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.

In 2022, Fisher appeared in two games late in the season after missing most of the season with an injury suffered in spring practice.

Although Fisher was not a heavy contributor along Penn State’s defensive line in 2023, he was expected to play a much larger role in 2024 with Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac off to the NFL.

Fisher was in competition with Dani Dennis-Sutton and fellow linebacker converted defensive end Abdul Carter for the two starting positions at defensive end for the 2024 season.


How does Zuriah Fisher injury impact Penn State Football in 2024?

With Fisher sidelined with an injury this fall, Penn State will now rely more heavily on three players this fall at defensive end than it expected to as spring practice began.

Abdul Carter and Dani Dennis-Sutton were already penciled in to play starter-level snaps for Penn State in 2024, and the Fisher injury will not impact that expectation.

It does make Carter’s transition to defensive end much more vital to the success of the Penn State defense in 2024. However, Fisher’s injury opens the door for a bigger role for sophomore Jameial Lyons, senior Amin Vanover, and Smith Vilbert at the position.


Jameial Lyons

Penn State Football, Jameial Lyons
Oct 14, 2023; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Jameial Lyons (19) pressures Massachusetts Minutemen quarterback Ahmad Haston (16) during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Massachusetts 63-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Lyons probably benefits the most from Fisher’s injury, as the sophomore burst onto the scene last season with a number of splash plays before being sidelined with injury himself at a point in 2023. Lyons finished his true freshman season with six tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss, and one sack.

His role was expected to increase in 2024 with Robinson and Isaac out of the way on the roster, but now Lyons will have the opportunity to compete for the DE3 position behind Dennis-Sutton and Carter. Out of any of the defensive ends not named Dennis-Sutton and Carter, Lyons may have the biggest upside in the defensive end room from what we saw on the field in 2023.


Amin Vanover

Amin Vanover is heading into his fifth season with Penn State, having played mostly a reserve role so far for the defense.

In 2022 and 2023, Vanover accumulated six total tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks playing a depth piece along the defensive line. With Fisher’s injury, however, Vanover could see more consistent playing time this fall if he can crack into the second-string role at defensive end.

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Smith Vilbert

Smith Vilbert will enter the 2024 season coming off of his own injury and not having played in a game in over a year.

Since the end of the 2021 season, Vilbert has only appeared in one game (the 2022 Rose Bowl against Utah), for a combination of injury and non-injury related reasons. In the Outback Bowl against Arkansas following the 2021 season, Vilbert set a Penn State bowl record for sacks in a game with three.

However, his production outside of the Outback Bowl has been extremely limited for Penn State.

With Zuriah Fisher unavailable, Abdul Carter’s transition to defensive end becomes even more vital for the Nittany Lions as the depth at the position took a serious hit.

These three players will have an opportunity to step up into a larger role this fall, but the production is limited for each for different reasons. Nittany Central will monitor the progress of these three heading into fall camp and report on any progress at the competition for what could be significant playing time behind Dennis-Sutton and Abdul Carter.

MORE: Penn State’s Burning Questions for 2024 College Football Season

 

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