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Penn State’s Parker Cothren hopes to catch on as Steelers defensive end

July 24, 2018

With Steelers training camp opening this week, the Trib is spotlighting a handful of the 90 attendees who might not be big names but who are fighting for a roster spot and potentially could make an impact on the 2018 team. This is the second in that series that will run leading into reporting day at St. Vincent College on Wednesday.

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Born and raised in Huntsville, Ala., Parker Cothren has found a new state to call home.

“I’ve grown accustomed to it; I love PA now,” Cothren said. “So, I’m happy to be here and happy it worked out this way.”

After five years at Penn State, Cothren was signed by the Steelers shortly after the draft ended in April. An honorable mention all-Big Ten honoree at defensive tackle as a redshirt senior in 2017, Cothren is transitioning to end as a pro in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme.

Over the four seasons he played at Penn State, Cothren worked his way up the depth chart in the rotation ran by demonstrative Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer, a Clarion University alum.

“It’s definitely different just being in a 3-4; you need bigger guys on the edges than you need in a 4-3, so that’s why they moved me out there,” Cothren said. “I was always inside in a 4-3. There are some things I had to re-learn (but) I played end in high school so it’s not different.

“It’s basically taking things that I have heard Coach Spencer yell at the ends for the last couple years - that’s what I am doing now.”

At 6 feet 4 and about 300 pounds, Cothren might have been a good size for a 4-3 tackle at the Big Ten level - but that’s about perfect for a 3-4 end in the NFL. As such, a change in body type wasn’t necessary for Cothren as part of the transitioning he’s been undergoing all summer at the Steelers’ rookie mini-camp, organized team activities and full minicamp.

“It’s always difficult to learn a new playbook,” Cothren said as minicamp was wrapping up last month. “The first couple days were rough learning everything. But after that it’s been going pretty well.”

That might best describe his tenure at Penn State, to which Cothren committed (over in-state power Auburn, among others) in the fall of 2012 when the program was amidst NCAA sanctions.

His first three seasons on campus were each seven-win campaigns for the Nittany Lions. But in 2016 and 2017, Cothren became a full-time starter - and Penn State became a national power, finishing in the top 10 both seasons.

“It was crazy; especially from when we first got to Penn State, no one expected it to go as good as it went,” Cothren said. “I was grateful for how it went. I wouldn’t have picked anywhere else. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Can Cothren have a similarly fruitful pro career? His official NFL draft profile lauds his instincts but questions his athleticism.

The Steelers have Pro Bowl-level starters at end in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, an established veteran backup in Tyson Alualu and a player who’s gradually built up trust from the coaches over his four years with the organization in L.T. Walton. Cothren’s likely path to the NFL as a rookie is via showing enough at training camp that he sticks on the practice squad.

“Right now I will take whatever I can get,” he said. “All I can do is go out and play as hard as I can. If it was meant to be, it will happen. So I will go out and do everything I can.”

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