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The offensive line has three first-year starters, while freshman tight end Kevin Haplea will likely make his first career start Saturday against Illinois in place of the injured Garry Gilliam _ another freshman.

Besides senior captain Brett Brackett, the team doesn’t appear to have a vocal leader among its core players _ a role the charismatic Clark relished last season. Senior tailback Evan Royster, who is 128 yards from setting the school career rushing record of 3,398 held by Curt Warner since 1982, is more of a lead-by-example guy.

There’s a similar situation on defense. Beyond defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu, there is no playmaking linebacker to rally the team unlike recent seasons when Lee, Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny paced Linebacker U.

Linebacker Michael Mauti might come closest with a stoic demeanor and muscle-bound upper body similar to Posluszny. The sophomore is just rounding into form after redshirting last year because of a knee injury.

The position uncharacteristically has been a question mark early on for Penn State, with missed tackles part of the reason for slow starts.

“The best way I can say it is we have to come out of the gate swinging,” Mauti said. “We have to come out of the gate, start making plays early and getting ourselves established.”