- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - Linebacker U. will have a new look this year.

Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull have left Penn State for the NFL, as has solid middle linebacker Jose Hull.

But unlike the drama this preseason over the 19th-ranked Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback job, there hasn’t been nearly as much fuss about the linebackers. It may take twice the number of players to fill the jobs performed by last season’s trio _ for good reason, in coach Joe Paterno’s mind.

“We’ve got at least five, maybe six kids that are good athletes who can be good linebackers,” the Hall of Fame coach said this week. “I think (the) linebacker situation should be one of our stronger spots.”

The depth chart lists Nathan Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bany Gbadyu as the starters for the season opener Saturday versus Youngstown State. All three have had extensive playing time as backups, especially Stupar and Gbadyu.

But they may be looking over their shoulders all year to check when they’ll be replaced.

Sophomore Michael Mauti, thought to be the next big-time ‘backer at Penn State, is back at 100 percent after missing 2009 with a right knee injury. He’s behind Stupar on the depth chart at strongside linebacker.

Another touted sophomore, converted safety Gerald Hodges, backs up Gbadyu at the other outside position, with redshirt freshman Michael Yancich the second-stringer behind Colasanti in the middle.

It’s made for fierce competition for playing time.

“I think the real big difference is the depth that we have. … We have about five or six linebackers that could be starters at any time during the season,” Gbadyu said Wednesday. “Everybody has to show that they are able to play, and able to play at a high level.”

For Gbadyu, it’s a chance to shine after coming close earlier in his career to transferring, in large part because of family reasons. A native of war-torn Liberia who moved to the United States when he was 10, Gbadyu and his father and brother ended up settling in Gaithersburg, Md.

Stupar is a homegrown talent, having gone to high school in State College and attending Penn State games as a fan. He has played an important role on special teams.

Colasanti competed for the middle linebacker job with Hull two years ago, then sat behind him for two seasons. He would have redshirted last season, but stepped back into rotation after early season injuries to Lee and Bowman.

“Honestly, I was disappointed having to redshirt. Things happen, people get hurt,” Colasanti said. “There were moments when I was upset, but in the whole scheme of things … I’m playing college football” at Penn State.

And playing one of the glamour positions at a school with a recent middle linebacking lineage that has included Jack Ham, Shane Conlan, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor.

“I’m not trying to over-think about it, or get emotional,” Colasanti said, “but it’s going to be an unreal feeling running out of the tunnel (Saturday) and knowing I’ll be out there making plays.”

Yet, without a down having been played, there are still nagging questions about just how the new-look linebacker corps will perform.

It’s unclear what kind of plans the coaches have for rotating linebackers, whether as a unit by series, or individually by down-and-distance situations. When asked, Colasanti likened it to how Penn State rotates players on the defensive line.

And what happens up front may also affect how well the linebackers play. While two starters and five others who were part of the defensive line rotation are back, there’s one big missing piece in havoc-wreaking tackle Jared Odrick, now with the Miami Dolphins.

Defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu, newly named a team captain this week, was confident the D-line would help keep blockers off the ‘backers.

“You want to go out there and clog holes for your linebackers … but you also want to make plays, too,” Ogbu said. “Either (way) isn’t bad.”

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