The opportunity is there. The time is right. The rest is up to them.

Kyle Baublitz and Ben Kline know that better than anyone.

On Monday, the two former York County standouts will embark on the most important spring practice of their Penn State football careers.

The 6-foot, 5-inch, 287-pound Baublitz, a Central York High School graduate, figures to be in the mix to start at defensive tackle. The 6-2, 224-pound Kline, a former Dallastown High star, is in a similar position at outside linebacker.

Both are positions of serious need in Happy Valley after the departure of PSU's three most dominant defensive players -- Jordan Hill at defensive tackle and Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges at outside linebacker.

Baublitz
Baublitz (Mark Selders)

Those openings alone, however, will not guarantee that Baublitz and Kline will be starters for the Nittany Lions when they take the field on Aug. 31 vs. Syracuse at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

If Head Coach Bill O'Brien has proven anything in his short tenure at Penn State, it's this -- he will start the best players, regardless of seniority or reputation. Yes, Baublitz and Kline were listed on the second-team defense in 2012, but that doesn't mean they'll automatically move up to starting roles this fall.

Both players must prove their worth this spring and summer to O'Brien. They must also impress new defensive coordinator, John Butler, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. Those four men are sure to be harsh and critical judges.

Baublitz will be a senior in the fall, but he has junior athletic eligibility after redshirting in 2010. Kline will be a junior this fall, but has sophomore athletic eligibility after redshirting in 2011. Both saw limited action in 2012. Kline played in all 12 games for PSU, registering nine solo tackles and nine assisted tackles. Baublitz played in six games and had two solo tackles and one assisted tackle, including a sack.

The competition is sure to be fierce.

Kline
Kline (John A. Pavoncello)

Senior DaQuan Jones returns at one defensive tackle spot and figures to start again this fall. Hill's spot is up for grabs. Baublitz backed up Hill last season, but he'll have to stave off promising freshmen Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, who each redshirted last season. It's also possible that Anthony Zettel, a junior with sophomore eligibility, could be moved inside from defensive end.

At outside linebacker, both starters (Mauti and Hodges) are gone. Mike Hull, however, saw significant time as a backup last season (58 tackles, 34 solo, 24 assisted) and is likely to grab one starting OLB spot. Hull will be a senior with junior eligibility. The other spot is wide open. Kline has more experience than any of his other main competitors -- Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten. Wartman saw action in two games last season as a true freshman and did not make a tackle before he got sidetracked by an injury. He will likely get credit for a redshirt season for 2012. Wooten redshirted last season as a true freshman. Incoming freshman Brandon Bell could also be a factor. All three of Kline's expected competitors are said to be excellent athletes -- as is Kline.

Baublitz and Kline may not find out until right before the Syracuse season opener whether they have achieved their ultimate goal -- becoming a Penn State starter. But the heavy lifting toward achieving that coveted position begins Monday.

The opportunity is there. The time is right. The rest is up to them.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.