Zettel embracing move to defensive tackle

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
4:30
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin was prepared to deliver a persuasive talk on why defensive end Anthony Zettel should move inside. He was ready to tell him how valuable he would be; he was ready to sit him down and detail how defensive tackle was his calling.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Zettel
MCT via Getty ImagesAnthony Zettel finished second on the team in sacks with four in 2013.
But Franklin never even had a chance to finish his speech over the offseason.

Before Franklin’s conclusion, as the two discussed a potential move, Zettel told him outright that he already wanted to move to defensive tackle. That was his plan.

“I learned a long time ago,” Franklin said Monday with a smile, “once it’s been sold, stop selling.”

Franklin landed in Happy Valley on Jan. 11 and has tried his best to build up relationships before Monday’s first spring practice. But, if he would have taken over the Nittany Lions in November, he would have realized how this move was a long time coming.

Zettel alternated between end and tackle throughout the 2013 season, giving the defense a critical sparkplug and finishing second on the team with four sacks. He played mostly defensive end since he weighed in at 258 pounds, but he wasn’t shy about his preference for the interior.

Said Zettel in November: “I enjoy moving inside. I think the future for me is inside, maybe. I can play with lower pads, and I don’t have to think as much. I enjoy getting banged around like that.”

Penn State’s new head coach didn’t divulge exactly what was said during that offseason discussion. But Zettel clearly has wanted to move to defensive tackle for quite some time -- and Franklin clearly knew that was best for his team.

And if that wasn’t clear last week, it certainly was during Franklin’s news conference Monday afternoon. Franklin announced that two returning defensive tackles -- redshirt sophomores Brian Gaia and Derek Dowrey -- were moving to offensive guard.

That clears the way for Zettel to start at defensive tackle, alongside returning starter Austin Johnson. Franklin now has just five scholarship defensive tackles, and only Zettel and Johnson have any game experience.

“He’s excited about doing it; he wants to do it,” Franklin said. “He’s really put on great size, tested extremely well -- but really excited about him at the three-technique and what he’s going to be able to do at the position.”

There is cause for some excitement with the move. In limited time last season, Zettel still finished with six tackles for loss and four sacks. And he flashed plenty of ability in 2012 when, during an 11-play span against Navy, he came away with six tackles and two sacks.

Franklin said Zettel, despite his weight nearing 280 pounds, still clocked in one of the fastest 40s on the defensive line. And both he and the staff knew Zettel would be better served at defensive tackle full-time, as opposed to last season when he saw time inside only during passing downs.

Once the staff saw tape of Zettel, it didn’t take long for them to come to the same conclusion as Zettel.

“When you put on the film, that guy’s a player,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told ESPN.com. “He brings an intensity to us; he brings athletic ability. And a lot of things we do are movement-oriented, so he fits in really well.”

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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