At this stage the widespread sentiment among observers is that the defense is ahead of the offense, which is largely attributed to a "fresh (offensive) line group" that is "learning each other's tendencies and trying to improve their communication as a unit."
In case you missed it, Penn State is somewhat short-handed with a series of injuries of note this spring.
Here are some offensive notes and observations from the most recent practice sessions:
Quarterbacks: Although PSU has as many as six quarterbacks taking snaps, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin have been splitting first-team reps this spring with Kevin Newsome, Paul Jones and Shane McGregor seeing second-team work. Redshirt freshman Garrett Venuto has seen spot duty under center.
It's been "a two-horse race" to this point this spring, but there is hope that Jones will emerge to make a run at the two deep. He continues to have issues he's working to resolve. According to one observer, "Physically he's all there — he's got size, strength, footwork. But he's got issues with his delivery. He'll under-throw or fail to follow-through or not control the velocity of his pass."
As Joe Paterno mentioned last week, Newsome has to focus on his academics and "tends to get distracted." As one observer put it, "He's fun to be around; the guys enjoy him. He just doesn't have the discipline or ... I don't know, I guess you could say drive or desire. He most definitely wants to play, but there's a lot of outside work that not necessarily fun to make that happen."
Note: FOS will have a more in-depth comparison report on Bolden and McGloin in the near future.
Receivers: Widely considered by many to be the "strength of the offense," the wideout unit "is in goods hands with Derek Moye and Justin Brown." Although Brown had "ups and downs" last season, most feel that the work he's put in this off-season continues to pay dividends on the field.
"Brown has size, speed, quicks, smarts," an observer said. "Derek has been helping him with the little things — using his hips, squaring his shoulders, eying the ball in. He's sharp on routes, but knows he has to get the ball before he can make a play with it."
Shawney Kersey is a receiver who observers see as a raw talent and feel that he "has the ability to make a bigger impact" as he focuses on his route-running. "He is so quick, which makes his route that much more critical to get the ball to him — the timing has to be on and he has to play his part by nailing the depth."
With the anticipation of Curtis Drake's return deflated with another season-ending injury, all eyes are on Devon Smith. Smith continues to show he has consistent hands and "break-neck speed." As one observer explained though, "He's got to keep his feet under him. Opponents don't even need to cover him if he's going to loose his legs five yards out of the backfield." Smith has been working on lowering his center and improving his footwork on cuts and directional shifts. "He's got the speed; he's just got to control it - then he becomes dangerous." In the two practices for the Coaches Clinic, Smith was easily the busiest pass-catcher. That could have been because the staff knows what to expect from Moye and Brown, and Kersey was sidelined with a minor injury.
The overall concern is with the consistency of the depth the unit has. Smith and Kersey are fast, but need to get consistent to make a serious impact. The other name tossed around is Brandon Moseby-Felder, who has seen second- and third-team work, but "can work into the rotation if he can get a handle on every ball and pick up some confidence."
Offensive Line: From left to right the coaches have been primarily running a lineup of:
The major concern is the middle of the line, particularly with Stankiewitch taking over for senior Doug Klopacz.
"Matt has a pretty good handle on the basics. He's working on his shotgun snaps, but overall he's technique is getting there." The major focus and "hangup at times" for the offensive line are the communication — calls and shifts — things Stankiewitch is responsible for. "He may not notice or adjust to a a shift on the [defensive] front and that blows open a hole. It comes with repetition and experience."
DeOn'tae Pannell, who has shifted back and forth between guard and tackle throughout his career, continues to have consistency issues. "He'll let down on some snaps." This seems to be why some feel Urshel, who has been seeing more and more first-team reps, could eventually emerge as the starter. "John's a workhorse and really puts in the time. He don't let down often, or at least I have not seen it," as one observer noted.
All in all the sentiment is that the line should have the strength and ability to be consistent, but "they have to get cohesive and become one." The larger concern here is the overall depth of the line.
Running Backs: One of the pleasant surprises shared by observers is the play of Brandon Beachum, who has seen first-team reps. "Beachum has had a tough go with the injuries, but he's fought to get back and looks good." Beachum, at about 230 pounds, is "powerful" and "stronger than ever." He also "has a good step with his size." As one observer said, "He's determined, which makes him dangerous, I hope it works out for him, he and Redd could be a great duo."
Speaking of Silas Redd, he is splitting first team reps with Beachum as veteran Stephfon Green nurses another injury — this time a shoulder. "Silas is sick on runs. He just bursts into space and has some great moves to make guys miss." Redd had some nice runs in Monday's scrimmage. "He'll make a cut, have a guy whiff and he's off." Redd has to "keep his head on a swivel" though, since he has "taken a few blind-side hits with his blinders on."
Curtis Dukes has seen primarily second-team work. At about 245 pounds, one observer called him a "truck." Some are concerned with Dukes' overall size, feeling it has "impacted his speed." But most feel that he's an ideal "situational back for short-yardage and goal-line situations." There is disagreement on Dukes' agility, though. "I wouldn't say he slow; I mean he's not winning many foot-races, but he's become damn tough to wrap up."
Although some feel the receiver unit is the strength of the offensive unit, many feel that the true weapons on offense will be the running game. "You have a great stable of backs who all bring something different to the table
With the fullbacks the Lions are "shallow on depth, but deep on talent," according to an observer. Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich are sharing first-team reps and "both come to play every practice." Suhey has been a "mainstay" in the offense and "is a good weapon when he has a strong runner behind him." He has also seen a few reps at tailback. Zordich has also emerged and "embraced the position" after playing linebacker earlier in his career.
"He's come into his own and improved with his blocks, although his strength is with carrying the ball." Zordich carried 18 times for 40 yards and three touchdowns in 2010 compared to Suhey, who carried eight times for 15 yards last season. "There's a lot of short-yardage combinations that can be thrown out with Suhey, Zordich, Dukes and Beachum."
Tight End: Probably the biggest concern of offense continues to be tight end. "It's still paper thin," according to one observer, with Garry Gilliam sidelined and recovering from a torn ACL. Kevin Haplea saw action in 12 games last season, but only caught three balls for 39 yards. Andrew Szczerba is dressed this spring after chronic back issues, but has been held out of contact.
Beyond that PSU has converted linebacker Mike Yancich and J.D. Mason taking second-team reps. "It's a rough situation with the injuries. Kevin has a big opportunity to step up. We'll have to see how Andrew progresses."
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