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How injury helped Penn State's Wartman

Being injured and on the sideline last season helped the linebacker better understand the defensive system.

Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman (5) defends against Penn State running back Deron Thompson (36) in the first half of the Spring NCAA football scrimmage on Saturday, April 20, 2013 in State College, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
Penn State linebacker Nyeem Wartman (5) defends against Penn State running back Deron Thompson (36) in the first half of the Spring NCAA football scrimmage on Saturday, April 20, 2013 in State College, Pa. (Keith Srakocic/AP)Read more

STATE COLLEGE - Nyeem Wartman went from playmaker in Penn State's opener last season to the scout team by November.

The linebacker hurt his knee in his second career game and did not return to the playing field. Though Wartman's health improved toward the end of the season, he remained on the sideline and was granted a medical redshirt.

There were obvious cons for Wartman in 2012, but the Philadelphia native's patience paid off. He will be a starter at "Linebacker U" this season, and very well could maintain that spot for the next 4 years.

"I learned the best of both worlds," Wartman said about his injury. "I learned what it feels like to play and what it feels like to be on the scout team. It was very humbling. Like, hey any moment you could go down. So you have to be prepared, be ready for any situation."

In addition to perspective, last season gave Wartman a chance to learn more about Penn State's schemes, and defensive coordinator John Butler saw a silver lining to Wartman spending his Saturdays on the bench.

"The [injury] might have been a blessing in disguise, because it allowed him to develop in our system for another year," Butler said.

Wartman started his true freshman season in a big way when he blocked a punt in the second quarter of Penn State's opening game against Ohio. But a week later, Wartman was hurt on the opening kickoff in a game against Virginia.

The Nittany Lions wound up going 8-4 last season despite dropping their first two contests. Though Wartman was not on the field for any victories, he still enjoyed the ride.

"That blocked punt was fun and everything," Wartman said, "but just watching my team win games and being on the sideline, cheering for them, preparing for the game knowing we were about to go to war together, even though I was not going to war with them. It was nice watching the games."

Coach Bill O'Brien said he feels comfortable with about five or six players seeing time at linebacker, so with little depth, Wartman is a vital piece of the defense. He has very limited collegiate experience, but Butler said Wartman has a good "football mind."

"Nyeem is a guy that when you talk football with him, he gets it very quickly," Butler said. "He's not a guy who looks at you with a hollow stare and says 'Oh, that's not right, that doesn't make sense.' "

Known for overpowering linebacker play, Penn State actually has somewhat of a concern about the position this season. Glenn Carson returns in the middle, but Wartman, and experienced redshirt junior Mike Hull will take over the outside linebacker spots, where Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti - who were both drafted by the Vikings - played last season.

Wartman had a healthy spring and made a few plays in April's Blue-White Game. It will be a different look for Carson when he looks over and sees Wartman line up beside him in a game, but the veteran is confident about the 20-year-old.

"He's putting things on film that has really impressed me," Carson said. "I think he's going to be a great player. His work ethic has really gotten tremendous, and he's really starting to feed into what we're all about here."

Wartman was born in Philadelphia and spent the first 15 years of his life there. He never played high school football in the city, however, as he moved to Scranton in eighth grade.

The 6-1, 241-pound linebacker still has many connections to the City of Brotherly Love. He said most of his family still lives there, and he has a tattoo of the LOVE Park statue on his left arm. Wartman spoke fondly when remembering his childhood in Philly, and don't think he's eating the city's signature sandwich anywhere else.

"I don't eat cheesesteaks unless I go to Philly," Wartman said. "They don't taste the same."

On Twitter: @SPianovich