STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.
Who: Jordan Hill admitted he struggled in the first three games because he was unaccustomed to all the double teams. But, as the season wore on, he became one of this team's most valuable players. Even coming off a knee injury, there's no doubt he'll be playing on Sundays. He was a balanced defensive tackle who wasn't the biggest but was incredibly effective at plugging the middle when playing the three-technique. James Terry was the top backup on the interior and also filled in when Hill missed time.
By the numbers: Penn State's defense allowed just 3.54 yards a carry, and Hill led the linemen with 64 stops. He finished fourth overall on the team in tackles, third in tackles for loss (8.5) and second in sacks (4.5). He also grabbed an interception on a play that's sure to make his draft highlights. Terry made 13 tackles, one sack and broke up a pass. Only three of those tackles were solo stops.
Job description: It's not yet known if Hill's replacement will play at the one-technique, where Hill opened the season, or will take over his usual three-technique spot. Whoever it is -- and wherever he plays -- will have big shoes to fill. Bill O'Brien called Hill one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, and that wasn't much of an exaggeration. He was the best player on this defensive line, and he brought everything to the table except overwhelming size. Hill is 6-foot-1 and 292 pounds. His quickness and pursuit were more of an asset than his strength, but his departure leaves a big void on the interior. Terry's graduation means two defensive tackles will have to step up in 2013.
Top candidates: Rising redshirt freshman Austin Johnson and rising redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz. Johnson redshirted but was a third-string player on the depth chart and seems to be ahead of the two other Class of 2012 DTs. Baublitz was the No. 4 DT and saw fewer snaps than Terry; he played in six games and finished the season with three tackles and a sack. One of these two will likely start, with the other taking Terry's role as the top backup.
One to watch: Johnson. At 6-4 and 297 pounds, he's already bigger than Hill. He doesn't boast the same speed or quickness as the two-year starter, but he could be the biggest surprise on the line in 2013. O'Brien said on his radio show earlier in the year that Johnson is "going to be a forced to be reckoned with," and he's a player Penn State fans should familiarize themselves with. Even if he doesn't start, he should see quite a bit of time on the field.