UNIVERSITY PARK - Linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were two of the linchpins in the Penn State defense last year, and Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich were the emotional spokesmen when about 30 players met with the media after the NCAA sanctions came down.
Both Mauti and Hodges were drafted by the Minnesota Vikings - Hodges in the fourth round and Mauti in the seventh round - to further solidify the nickname "Linebacker U.''
They were the two top tacklers on the team - Hodges with 109, including 8 for loss, and Mauti with 95. Mauti's total would have been higher had he not injured his knee in the 11th game against Indiana.
"Obviously they were a great asset to our team last year," said fifth-year senior Glenn Carson, who was the other starting linebacker, "but time moves on, and we're just looking forward to new guys stepping up, and we're looking forward to the season. Last year is over, and we're just moving forward."
Carson, who was third on the team in tackles with 85, says he's talked to both Mauti and Hodges, but there was no pep talk or advice in the conversation.
"I think they know that it's not really needed," Carson said. "They know that I know what is needed to be done. It was just kind of 'Hey, how are you doing?' It was just catching up."
Mauti was already an inspiration before he suffered his third career knee injury, and the Lions wore his No. 42 on their helmets for the season finale against Wisconsin. Mauti and Hodges continue to be inspirations to the current linebackers because they were drafted and trying to make the Vikings.
"You always look up to your upperclassmen as teammates," said redshirt junior linebacker Mike Hull, who had 58 tackles and four sacks last year, "and whenever they move on to the next level, you like to keep in touch with them and see how they're doing. It definitely helps you get motivated for what can come in the future."
"We have a great lineage of linebackers, and G [Hodges] and Mauts [Mauti] are the next step in that," redshirt sophomore Ben Kline said. "We take that lineage seriously and that reputation seriously, and work hard every day. We're really happy for them and excited for them. Knowing them, I'm sure they're doing a great job."
From his inside linebacker spot, Carson, who is flanked by Hull and redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman on the outside, would logically be the guy who would be next in line to lead the team in tackles and join his former teammates in the NFL next year.
"I'm just taking it day by day, and I'm trying to get better every practice," Carson said.
But a lot is also expected of the 6-1, 240-pound Wartman, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game in 2012 playing on special teams and was granted a medical redshirt.
"He's had a really good three days of camp so far," coach Bill O'Brien said last Thursday. "He's an instinctive guy, has good coverage skills, is a tough kid and is another guy who is a potential leader. He's going to help us in a lot of different areas. I believe he's going to be a real good player for us."
"I'm not really one to toot my own horn," Wartman said. "I'm just out there doing what I'm told to do, reading my responsibilities. Whatever I have to do to make this team better is what I'm going to do. I always learned don't toot your own horn because there are 11 guys on the field, and the only reason you're doing good is because the other guys are doing good."
Depth at the position could be a problem, though. Kline, redshirt freshman Gary Wooten and redshirt freshman Charles Idemudia were the only listed reserves on the preseason depth chart. O'Brien said a number of walk-ons, or run-ons in his terminology, are looking to fill spots as reserves.
"Where the depth is more of a concern is linebacker," O'Brien said. "You guys can read the roster. Our three starting linebackers are really good."
"I've seen a lot of good things from all of the linebackers across the board in that lower depth chart," Carson said. "They're getting a lot better from where they were in the spring, which is good and encouraging."
"We have a whole bunch of great players at linebacker, and people always step up," said Kline, whom O'Brien said has been battling a shoulder injury. "I'm sure this year will be no different. We'll have great linebacker play like we always do."
While Ron Vanderlinden returns as the linebackers coach, the defense is under the direction of John Butler, who was the secondary coach last season under defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who moved on Georgia Tech.
"Coach Butler is very intense," Wartman said. "He cares about us. He's a guy who is going to push you until you get it right. He looks for perfection in everything he does, and he makes sure every day you're one step closer to being great."