Penn State: Crawford latest defensive standout
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State often is referred to as Linebacker U, but the Nittany Lions have produced their share of outstanding defensive linemen in the past decade.
Courtney Brown, Michael Haynes, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin and Jared Odrick have all been first-team All-Americans and first-round NFL draft picks under defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Junior defensive end Jack Crawford, easily recognizable by his bald head and British accent, was tutored by Hali and Odrick this summer.
Crawford hopes to some day follow their path to the NFL. For now, though, he is focused on becoming an impact player for No. 19 Penn State this season.
"We've had some great defensive linemen here under coach Johnson," Crawford said. "I've met a lot of the guys and I've gotten a lot of great tips from them. I just hope I can have as much success as they did on the field here."
• Game: Penn State vs. Youngstown State, University Park, Pa.
• When: Noon, Sept. 4.
• TV: Big Ten Network.
Crawford, 6 feet 5 and 271 pounds, is one of two full-time starters returning up front for the Lions, joining fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu (6-1, 300), who has started 22 games.
Redshirt junior defensive end Eric Latimore (6-6, 280) made five starts last season. Oft-injured redshirt junior defensive tackle Devon Still (6-5, 311) is the guy trying to replace Odrick, a three-year starter and first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.
"Jared definitely left some big shoes to fill," Crawford said. "The biggest thing I learned from him was attitude -- just his attitude in everything he did in the games and in the meeting rooms."
Crawford's story has been well chronicled. He was born in London, England, and moved to the United States five years ago, intending to pursue a basketball career. But as a junior at St. Augustine Prep in Richland, N.J., in 2006, he decided to join the football team and excelled at defensive end and tight end.
He accepted a scholarship offer from Penn State and was one of just three true freshmen to play in 2008, when he was on the field for 127 snaps.
Crawford started all 13 games a year ago, his first as a starter. He ranked ninth in the Big Ten Conference in tackles for loss (14 1/2) and 10th in sacks (5 1/2) and earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He finished with 31 tackles, three pass break-ups, two fumble recoveries and forced one fumble.
"Jack's a beast," Ogbu said. "He has a lot of upside since he hasn't been playing football all that long."
Crawford is one of nine Big Ten players to be named to the preseason watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the country's top defensive player. He also is one of 36 candidates for the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the top defensive end.
"I don't think I can ever live up to my expectations," he said. "My expectations are always set real high. I want to have the most sacks on the defensive line. I want to cause constant havoc in the backfield."
Crawford is one of five full-time starters returning from a defense that ranked in the Top 10 nationally in run defense (89.8 ypg) and scoring defense (12.2 ppg) in 2009.
The defense lost its top three linebackers and Crawford said the line's play was inconsistent at times last year. But he is predicting more sacks this year, although Penn State tied for 10th in the country last season with 37.
"You look at the tape from last year, there's a lot of things we didn't do, like get off blocks, and we didn't execute our pass-rush moves quick enough," he said. "If we would have done these things, we would have got a lot more sacks. We missed about half the opportunities we had.
"It's just little technique stuff we need to improve on. We have the talent to do it, but we have to do the little things to take us to the next level."
First Published August 25, 2010 12:00 am