UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's front four is developing into one of the best in the Big Ten Conference.
The leader of the defensive line is senior tackle Jared Odrick, a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season.
Odrick equaled his career high with two sacks Saturday in the Nittany Lions' 52-3 victory against Eastern Illinois. He also had five tackles and a career-high 3 1/2 tackles for losses.
"He's playing great and he's getting better," defensive line coach Larry Johnson said.
Johnson knows a thing or two about defensive linemen with star qualities, having coached and developed five first-team All-Americans and first-round NFL draft picks in the past nine years.
They include defensive ends Aaron Maybin, Tamba Hali, Michael Haynes and Courtney Brown, and defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy.
Odrick, 6 feet 5 and 306 pounds, is rated the 31st-best senior prospect in the country by NFLDraftScout.com, and the fourth-best defensive tackle. He is projected as a potential second-round pick.
Odrick often is double-teamed, but he usually finds a way to disrupt the play in the backfield, which creates more opportunities for his teammates.
"I think he's the best 3-technique guy in the country and I've felt that for a couple years now," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "He's a guy that can line up at defensive tackle, he could play nose if he wanted to or he could go out and play at defensive end.
"He's an excellent athlete who is in great shape. I just think he's a big-time football player. He commands respect."
Odrick frequently describes the defensive line, which includes redshirt sophomore Eric Latimore and sophomore Jack Crawford at the end spots and redshirt junior Ollie Ogbu at the other tackle, as playing "fast and violent."
The Lions (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) have not allowed a touchdown in the first half this year entering their game Saturday against Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) at Beaver Stadium.
Odrick has 22 tackles at the midway point of the season, including seven for 33 yards in losses, for the Lions, who remained No. 14 in The Associated Press poll yesterday, but dropped one spot to No. 13 in the USA Today coaches' poll.
"There's always stuff you can improve on," Odrick said. "I'll go and watch film and I'm my own toughest critic. And if you're not, I don't think you can be successful.
"Can I play a perfect game? It's hard to say. ... But if you don't strive for that perfect game, you'll definitely never have one."
Against Eastern Illinois, Penn State's defense recorded five sacks, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble, which Ogbu forced and outside linebacker Navorro Bowman recovered and returned 91 yards for his first career touchdown.
"I'm glad he made it to the end zone," Odrick said. "I told him next time if he can't make it, just toss [the ball] back to me. I'll run the last 20 [yards]."
Johnson used a multitude of defensive linemen in his rotation against the Division I-AA Panthers. The list includes fifth-year senior end Jerome Hayes (6-2, 240); redshirt freshman tackle James Terry (6-3, 303); redshirt sophomore tackle Devon Still (6-5, 294); redshirt sophomore end Kevion Latham (6-2, 254); true freshman end Sean Stanley (6-1, 232) and true freshman tackle Jordan Hill (6-1, 305).
Tackle Brandon Ware (6-3, 341), a redshirt freshman who broke his right foot before the season opener against Akron, could be back at practice as early as today. Ware's return would be a boost for a defense that is allowing 10.2 points per game, 81.8 rushing yards and 173.8 passing.
"We have to stay fresh once we get into Big Ten play," Johnson said. "You get those 300-pound guys laying on you all game, it'll wear you out, even Jared Odrick, no matter how good he is. If we can give him a break, four or five plays here, four or five plays there, and keep him in a situation where he can be a key to the game, we have to do that."
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