BF.C First Look: PSU

THE BEAVERS IN 2008 will come straight off the Pac-10 road opener and travel to Penn State, likely a Top 15 pick when the preseason polls come out. PSU is unsettled on a starting QB, they lose last year's 1,300-yard rusher and their best linebacker is out for the season. But Penn State fans are talking confidently about giving Oregon State a whuppin' and going to a BCS bowl, or better.

Inside slant:
  • Coach Joe Paterno Paterno seems to be in close agreement with the fans on the team's prospects this season, saying in July that Penn State can be in the thick of things for the '08 national championship.

  • Penn State this offseason has been working on implementing a spread offense. How much is added, or indeed if any is added at all, remains to be seen -- Paterno seemed to downplay whether PSU would following the conclusion of spring drills.

  • The starting quarterback spot is up for grabs heading into fall camp according to Paterno, who named Daryll Clark, Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo all as candidates. The race is thought to be primarily between Clark and Devlin.

  • Some of the Nittany Lion faithful see the trio of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood as perhaps the most talented starting receivers unit ever at Penn State.

  • PSU lost their best linebacker, and arguably their best overall player, when linebacker Sean Lee went down to a knee injury this spring. He will redshirt this season.

  • The media this offseason has held a particular fascination with Paterno's contract situation. The longtime Penn State coach no longer has a rollover deal and is operating on a year to year basis. Whether the uncertainty has hurt recruiting is debatable but numbers-wise, it's hard to make that argument -- Penn State had 16 known verbal commitments as of mid-July.

  • The Nittany Lions were without the services of 21 lettermen at spring ball's outset -- 12 on offense, eight on defense and three special teamers.

  • Penn State has endured another uneven offseason since the end of the '07 campaign -- six players were suspended prior to spring ball.

    2007 Record: (9-4, 4-4)
    Coach: Joe Paterno (372–125–3 career mark)

    Oregon State at Penn State
    Saturday, Sept. 6, ABC, 12:30 p.m.

    RETURNING STARTERS:
    *Penn State's official site lists the Nittany Lions with 14 starters returning, though other counts put that number as high as 17.

    Offensive Starters Returning (8):
    Deon Butler, WR; Gerald Cadogan, T; Dennis Landolt, T; Mike Lucian, G; Rich Ohrnberger, G; Andrew Quarless, TE; A.Q. Shipley, C; Derrick Williams, WR

    Offensive Starters Lost (3):
    Terrell Golden, WR; Rodney Kinlaw, RB; Anthony Morelli, QB

    Defensive Starters Returning (6):
    Tony Davis, S; Maurice Evans, DE; Josh Gaines, DE; Tyrell Sales, LB; Anthony Scirrotto, S; A.J. Wallace, CB
    Defensive Starters Lost (5):
    Chris Baker, DT; Dan Connor, LB; Justin King, CB; Phil Taylor, DT; *Sean Lee, LB
    *out for season w/ injury

    Specialist Starters Returning (2):
    Jeremy Boone, P; Kevin Kelly, K
    Specialist Starters Lost (1): Chris Mauriello (LS)

    Offensive snapshot:
    How either Daryll Clark, (31 career passes) or Pat Devlin (1 career pass) adapt to the starter's role figures to be key. Whoever wins the job, he'll have a veteran offensive line in front of him, though sophomore Stefen Wisniewski beat out senior guard Mike Lucian this spring. Pessimists will however point out that all those starters returning on offense are doing so from a unit that was less than prolific last season. As much as the talk this spring and summer has been about moving to a hybrid shotgun spread with split backs, don't be surprised if Penn State puts up similar play selection numbers to last year when they ran it 528 times while attempting 415 passes. Evan Royster figures, in terms of carries, to be the main replacement to Rodney Kinlaw and his 1,329 yards in '07 but keep an eye out for burner Stephfon Green. His blocking needs work, he's still learning the game and the offense, but he can fly.

    Defensive snapshot:
    A fast, productive unit, the defense offers plenty of reasons for optimism for Penn State fans in '08. The defense is built around speed, and the d-line bears that out with any number of players who can get in the backfield and cause havoc. DE Maurice Evans racked up 12.5 sacks last season and the unit itself is a disruptive presence whether going against the pass or the run. The linebacker position took a hit with the injury to Sean Lee and the graduation of Dan Connor, but Penn State still looks to be at least solid there. Depth is a concern if the injury bug were to hit hard. The PSU secondary, however, was beaten deep last year and more so as the year went along. While they return three starters in the defensive backfield, their best DB and arguably one of the best cover corners in the country, Justin King, left early for the NFL. Still, the defensive line and linebackers could well end up masking some of those potential shortcomings in the secondary. The question is if they can do so consistently, week to week.

    Headed into fall camp..
    The bulk of the questions headed into fall camp are on offense -- the quarterback, the spread, etc. but the media has also wondered aloud if Paterno's contract situation and the off-field incidents might be cause for distraction this season. Of the six players -- Chris Baker (DT), Chris Bell (WR), Navorro Bowman (LB), Andrew Quarless (TE), Phillip Taylor (DT) and Knowledge Timmons (DB) were at the time indefinitely suspended for various reasons, (Tyrell Sales reportedly was not suspended and had charges dropped after an altercation), all but Taylor and Bell were later reinstated and allowed to take part in team activities. Bell was kicked off the team after another incident occurred during spring ball. "They've got to do certain academic work. I've got to feel comfortable that they've grown up and aren't silly kids and that they can walk away from situations. When they do that, then we'll re-evaluate their situations," said Paterno when asked if the matter was now closed on the suspensions. The guess here is that Paterno's contract, offseason troubles with the law, neither of those items will play much into how successful Penn State is this season. They make for compelling copy, but Penn State will more likely rise or fall based on if their defense can overcome an offense that doesn't figure to consistently put a lot of points on the board or be able to regularly put together long sustained drives. But if the offense is productive, if the defense lives up to their billing, they could offer a formidable challenge to most any opponent.

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