September 09, 2015

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) When he hit the ground against Temple on Saturday, Nyeem Wartman-White knew his left knee was toast.

And while the Penn State junior linebacker knows he'll heal in time for a return next season, he's not waiting around to make an impact.

Propped up on crutches, his left leg wrapped almost entirely in a bulky blue brace, Wartman-White gathered his young teammates for a long film session on Sunday. On Monday - the team's off day - he did the same. By Wednesday, teammates estimated Wartman-White had already spent a week's worth of time analyzing game film with the handful of young linebackers expected to share the snaps Wartman-White would've played in the middle of the defense.

''You don't see that a lot,'' senior safety Jordan Lucas said. ''He's taking leadership already in the sense that he wants to make sure guys are prepared for the opportunities that lie ahead for them. He's a player-coach for us.''

Wartman-White was hurt covering a first-half punt. Linebackers coach Brent Pry is still looking for a suitable combination to replace his star.

Penn State played nine linebackers against Temple. Among them were rookies Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen, whom coach James Franklin planned to redshirt.

''They went right from the scout team to us burning their redshirts and getting them on the field,'' Franklin said.

But with Wartman-White's tutelage, Franklin hopes the entire corps will be better prepared when Penn State plays Buffalo at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Players like Cooper, Bowen and Troy Reeder won't have to shoulder the entire load. Instead, Cabinda and junior Gary Wooten are better suited to share it.

Like Cooper and Bowen, Cabinda would've redshirted last season but was needed when Wartman-White missed the Northwestern game with an injury. Although Wartman-White returned the next week and was effective the rest of the way, Cabinda emerged as a complimentary defender on the weak side and earned a starting spot there in training camp.

To this point, Cabinda has only played on the outside in games. But his size and skillset - he's slightly bigger than Wartman-White at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds and coaches trust his athleticism to give him an edge over other linebackers in coverage - translate well if he's asked to shift inside. He's split middle reps with Wooten so far this week.

''It's a difficult position to play,'' Cabinda said. ''You've got to make calls. You've got to make adjustments and checks and it's not easy to do.''

Even though Cabinda thinks his ''hard-hitting, downhill style'' could make him formidable in the middle, he realizes that foresight - being able to anticipate how an offense will attack based on situation and alignments - is what separates good middle linebackers from great ones.

Cabinda said he thought Penn State had numerous breakdowns without Wartman-White in the game relaying calls to the secondary and defensive line inside a loud, energetic Lincoln Financial Field. Burdened with an offense that couldn't sustain a drive, Penn State's defense was forced to defend for more than 36 minutes with an inexperienced group of communicators. Temple capitalized with big plays over the middle with two coming on the Owls' first scoring drive after Wartman-White was hurt.

But now Cabinda and Wooten will have ample time to practice it. And they'll have another mentor in Wartman-White helping them along.

''There were plays where sometimes the calls were only being echoed up front and not to the back end of the defense,'' Cabinda said. ''But I think that's something that we got fixed up and it won't be a problem for us this week.''

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