By Thomas Frank Carr
ESPN Radio 1450
By now we all know that Penn State lost defensive end Carl Nassib, and tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel to the NFL this spring.
All together that’s 879 pounds of beef to replace.
One of the men that was singled out this spring to take on that task was defensive tackle Kevin Givens, the Altoona native who made the transition to defensive tackle from defensive end this off-season.
Givens’ play made him stick out like a sore thumb to fans and the coaching staff. But that doesn’t mean that we should anoint Givens a starter for the 2016 season. On media day, Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry made it clear that Givens has work to do to earn that role,
“We told Kevin this morning in front of the unit, that he has a lot of work to do. He had some splash plays this spring, and we were very proud of the adjustment he made. He embraced moving inside to defensive tackle. But, he’s got a lot of work to do. He’s still very raw as an inside player.”
Givens echoed those sentiments later, and noted that there were areas of his game that he had to focus on with the shift inside,
“The big difference really is that you’ve got to be more physical. It starts all inside so if you can’t stop the run, you can’t stop the pass.”
There’s one problem for Givens, he’s 270.
When asked, he said his goal to play around 285, which has been echoed by his coaches all off-season. That will be a tough task, seeing as it’s Mid-August and the scale has yet to tip that way.
The Nittany Lions would like to improve upon a defense that struggled against the run at times in 2015. Big 10 coaches figured out Anthony Zettel better in his second year at defensive tackle, causing the senior to struggle against the run at times. Givens is in an eerily similar position to Zettel, who made the transition to defensive tackle and struggled to keep his weight up.
Further compounding things for the Nittany Lions is the fact that they don’t have a player like 323 pound Austin Johnson to stick next to Givens. For his part, the Altoona Area high school graduate isn’t worried,
“In the summer we all worked hard with the strength coaches to get bigger, stronger and faster so I feel like the coaches pushed us to our potential…I can still play inside but I’d like to be heavier to make it easier on my body.”
Givens isn’t your typical defensive tackle, topping out at six feet one inch. He also doesn’t have typical tackle role models, when asked who he likes to watch film of, two names jump to his mind,
“I like Von Miller a lot.”
It speaks volumes about Givens that one of his role models is a 249 pound speed rusher. Who is the other name?
“I like Aaron Donald a lot too, that’s probably my idol really. If there was anybody I had to choose it would be him.”
There are a lot of similarities between the two. Donald hovers around 6’0” is considered undersized for his position, and relies on speed, quickness, and uncommon strength to win in the trenches.
Pry sees all those qualities in Givens as well,
“He’s got some great qualities; his strength, his leverage, his instincts, but he’s still growing. We’re still trying to get him a little bigger. He’s got to gain better understanding of the defense and playing in the framework of things. But we’re excited about him. He’s just got some work to do.”
The difference? 15 pounds and a lot of experience. Donald weighs a feathery 285 pounds, but was one of the most disruptive interior offensive lineman in the NFL over the past two years. Even at his lighter weight, Donald is much heavier and has mastered his size, something Givens must prove he can do.
Otherwise, someone else will fill the quarter ton gap in the defensive line. Don’t worry though, Givens doesn’t lack confidence,
“I definitely feel like my explosion is one of the best in the country. So, we’ll see.”