Who will coach Penn State's elite pass rushers now? 5 names to know ...
Penn State may own the best defensive end group in the Big Ten and beyond in 2023.
But who will lead this deep and ultra-talented group of pass rushers − as well as develop a crucial defensive tackle presence − during this season of high expectations?
Once again, James Franklin must replace a standout defensive line coach late in the hiring schedule. In February of 2020, longtime assistant Sean Spencer left for the NFL. Now, impressive talent developer John Scott, Jr. is doing the same.
Scott is leaving for the Detroit Lions, which means Franklin must find a top-shelf coach and recruiter just a couple of weeks before spring practice begins.
And there's a lot riding on the move, maybe even more than usual. The Top 10 Lions return three of the most highly regarded pass rushing prospects in the Big Ten and nationally in Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac and former 5-star recruit Dani Dennis-Sutton. Depth is impressive with high-level backups Amin Vanover, Zuriah Fisher and Smith Vilbert.
The new coach must also build up a more unproven and thinner defensive tackle group that loses leader PJ Mustipher.
Who will be the Lions' latest addition to their staff? (Wide receivers coach Marques Hagans replaced the fired Taylor Stubblefied in January).
Here are five names to know in the search:
Deion Barnes, Penn State
The former Nittany Lion defensive end could be the wise, stay-at-home choice. Franklin recently promoted him from graduate assistant to offensive and defensive analyst, and Barnes is considered a riser in the coaching profession.
Before rejoining Penn State, he was an assistant high school coach in his hometown of Philadelphia. He's learned from Scott and appears to be respected by the Penn State players.
But is he the properly experienced, prudent choice now?
Chris Achuff, Syracuse
The current defensive line coach of the Orange may have the perfect blend of college and NFL experience and geographic familiarity.
Achuff is in his mid-40s and has spent 17 years coaching the defensive line, including two years with the Arizona Cardinals.
Interestingly, he grew up just outside of State College, in Bellefonte, and played at Bloomsburg in the mid-1990s. He was a grad assistant under Joe Paterno and coached at Kutztown, Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and at Big 12-winning Baylor before moving to the NFL.
He's been at Syracuse the past three years.
Andrew Jackson, West Virginia
Another potential rising star in the profession, like Barnes, who also knows Penn State well.
Just with a bit more experience in his craft, at this point.
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Jackson did impressive work in Morgantown the last two seasons after leading the defensive line and serving as a recruiting coordinator for Old Dominion in 2020.
His tie to Penn State? He served as a grad assistant under Franklin in 2015-16.
After that, he had brief stints coaching linemen at James Madison and Fordham and was an off-field assistant at Mississippi State.
Elijah Robinson, Texas A&M
The former Penn State defensive lineman certainly has made a name for himself as a gifted recruiter and on-the-rise talent developer for Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies.
His name has come up before on Penn State fans' wish-lists for defensive openings. Would he take a lateral position move now for potential career stability and program familiarity?
Robinson served as the defensive line coach in his first four seasons with the Aggies before being promoted to assistant head coach and run game coordinator last year.
Before that, Robinson coached the defensive line at Baylor and Temple under former Nittany Lion linebacker and new Nebraska head coach Matt Rhule.
Robinson spent a decade at Penn State, first as a player, then as a staff member. After his playing career was cut short by injury in 2006, he stayed on as a graduate assistant. He also helped coach the defensive line briefly and served as director of community relations and NFL liaison under Bill O'Brien.
Jess Simpson, Duke
He's experienced, successful and is a known commodity, in a sense.
Simpson worked under current Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz at Miami. That kind of familiarity appeared to aid the recent hire of Hagans as receivers coach (He and PSU safeties coach Anthony Poindexter were co-workers and good friends at Virginia).
Simpson joined Duke in January of 2022 with more than 25 years of coaching experience, including a dozen as a high school head coach, where he won seven state titles.
He coached at Miami from 2018 until Diaz's staff was disbanded following the 2021 season. He also spent a couple of seasons coaching the defensive line in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.