Spring breakout player: Penn State

May, 8, 2014
May 8
10:30
AM ET
With spring practice officially behind us, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

These are guys who haven't played big roles yet but showed enough during the 15 spring practices -- not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

Next up is the team with the highest spring game attendance in the B1G, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Spring breakout player: DT Anthony Zettel

[+] EnlargeAnthony Zettel
MCT via Getty ImagesAfter moving from DE to DT, Anthony Zettel looks poised for a big year for Penn State.
Coach James Franklin was ready to sit Zettel down this offseason to persuade him to move permanently from end to tackle. But Franklin never had the chance -- Zettel soon told Franklin that was his plan all along.

Clearly, they both made the right decision. Zettel, who alternated between the outside and inside last season, embraced the move and wasted no time in making an impact this spring. He earned praise from defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and his teammates, and he's even gained 16 pounds from last season -- he's now up to 274 -- to better facilitate the transition.

Zettel also maintained his speed, probably the characteristic that most separates him from other defensive linemen. Despite now eating five meals a day, he's still one of the fastest players on Penn State's line -- and that speed has proved problematic for his OL teammates.

"Zettel has been very, very disruptive this spring," Shoop acknowledged last month.

Zettel was a key backup for Penn State the last two seasons but now, as a redshirt junior, he's one of the starting defensive tackles. And, in many ways, this spring has been a long time coming.

He was recruited as a promising defensive tackle -- he has broad shoulders and a shorter wingspan -- but he moved to defensive end because he couldn't gain weight fast enough. He still managed to play in 24 games, starting in two, and he has made the most out of his limited time.

In 2012, during an 11-play span against Navy, he came away with six tackles and two sacks. Last season, as a backup, more than one-third of his tackles (six of 16) came in the backfield. And, with a strong spring now behind him, there's no telling what kind of fall is in front of him as a starter.

"I wasn't ready to start," Zettel said last month, referring to his last two seasons. "But, now, I feel like I am. And I'm excited."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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