Meanwhile, a longtime backup is seeking to transfer out, according to reports.
The most critical development involves defensive end Shaka Toney and safety Lamont Wade, both big contributors to the Nittany Lions’ highly-regarded defense last season. Both apparently considered leaving college early to pursue professional football and enter the NFL Draft.
Neither made a public declaration, one way or another, in the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis or since. After the game, Toney, in particular, said he had not yet made up his mind.
But the deadline has come and passed for college underclassmen to declare their intentions to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, and Toney and Wade are not among those listed. Penn State’s only early entrants are potential first-round draft picks — defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and receiver KJ Hamler.
Toney (6-foot-3, 243 pounds) elevated himself from a situational pass rusher into a starter in 2019. He recorded 41 tackles with eight for loss and 6.5 sacks — all career highs. Featuring high-end quickness for his position, Toney barely missed several more sacks and plays in the backfield.
Minutes after the Cotton Bowl, Toney reflected on his redshirt junior season and looked ahead to what’s coming at Penn State.
“We really invested,” Toney said at the time. “This is probably the closest team we’ve had since I’ve been here. There’s no more cliques. There’s no more guys who go out on their own. People roll out four and five deep …”
One of the team leaders, Toney will expect to start again in 2020, opposite sophomores defensive ends Jayson Oweh or Adisa Isaac. The Lions also will return senior end Shane Simmons and a handful of well-regarded youngsters such as Hakeem Beamon.
Wade also provided his top performance as a junior in 2019. He was fourth on the team with 67 tackles and third with five pass breakups. He enjoyed a monster game at Ohio State, which included 10 tackles, three forced fumbles and a sack.
Wade will help anchor a secondary that also returns safeties Jonathan Sutherland and Jaquan Brisker and plenty of possibilities at cornerback, led by senior Tariq Castro-Fields.
The senior-to-be recorded just seven tackles last season and rarely saw extended plays in the defensive line rotation.