NITTANY NOTES: Hold the Line

Penn State held an extended scrimmage on Saturday. Get some notes from the session here as the Nittany Lions head into the final week of spring drills.

Saturday marked the Nittany Lions second extended scrimmage of the spring period, with about 55 or so scrimmage sets run during the session. The team also ran some Drill 6 (7 on 7) during the day.

The last FOS scrimmage report from last week focused on the offensive struggles, particularly with the retooled offensive line, which has seen a first team of:

LT: Quinn Barham
LG: Johnnie Troutman
C: Matt Stankiewitch
RG: John Urschel
RT: Chima Okoli

Described by one observer as a "speed bump" based on their performance in the first spring scrimmage, another observer noted that the linemen "worked better together" this past Saturday. Stankiewitch in particular showed improvement with his communication, although "he still gets caught with multiple shifts or movement up off the wing — it's not an easy job, but he has to nail down seeing and calling it. But the older guys were helping him more this time around."

The defense still "had the advantage" in Saturday's scrimmage, particularly in the middle, but the quarterbacks "at least had some time to let things develop." As one observer noted, "They were making a lot of shifts and throwing out different looks to test the (offensive) line."

One rotation of note on the line is that DeOn'tae Pannell and John Urschel continue to split reps at right guard. Observers like what Urschel has been able to show this spring, but "there's also a need to get multiple guys who can step in to fill holes."

In a surprise, redshirt freshman P.J. Jones saw his share of first-team reps at quarterback later in the scrimmage. There seemed to be some debate between head coach Joe Paterno and QBs coach Jay Paterno over whether Jones should see first-team action, and the elder Paterno won out.

Jones threw a pair of TD passes and was intercepted once.

With Derek Moye sidelined as a precaution for a concussion sustained last week, Justin Brown and Shawney Kersey were the two "go-to" guys for the quarterbacks. "Derek is big in this offense, but Justin, Kersey and Devon Smith are getting there."

With Stephfon Green back in action after a shoulder injury, he saw a good amount of first-team work along with Silas Redd who "had some strong runs" and "inside or outside can make things happen — he's got the speed to make the edge and the power to grind it inside." Redd picked up a few big runs of 15-plus yards "thanks to his legs and head; he makes some good reads, but he's got to take care of himself" since he likes to "deliver big hits."

Brandon Beachum is still impressing, but "shaking off the rust" with his technique. He's hit holes hard, but has "misread the line on some runs." Curtis Dukes has "been brilliant" in short-yardage situations, although some observers are worried the punishing position could take it's toll on Dukes.

Michael Zordich saw first-team fullback reps along with Joe Suhey. The stable of Dukes, Beachum, Suhey, Zordich and even Redd, "give versatility to the packages they can run in short-yardage and red-zone sets."

The tight end position is still an area of concern with Gary Gilliam out. Kevin Haplea, Andrew Szczerba, J.D. Mason and converted linebacker Mike Yancich have been the core group with talk of Nate Cadogan shifting over to shore up some depth. Szczerba, although dressed, is still limited in action. The coaches have been running some two-end sets, but the question is who the best options are for this if Szczerba's health remains an issue.

The defensive front four kept the generally first-team lineup of (right to left)):

DE: DaQuan Jones
DT: Jordan Hill
DT: Devon Still
DE: Sean Stanley

Although the offensive line showed marked improvement, Still and Hill "we're still winning the battle upfront. They weren't blowing up the pocket like last time, but they were giving the interior a lot to handle."

Nate Stupar was back in action after being held out for a period with a nagging hamstring injury. Stupar saw first team reps with Gerald Hodges on the outside and Mike Mauti inside. "It's a solid group, although personally, I like the spark (Khairi) Fortt brings into the lineup," one observer noted.

Fortt saw the bulk of his reps with the second team with Mike Hull on the outside and Glen Carson inside. This is a second team "that has a lot of speed and aggression. They could really emerge into a great set of options for the unit."

The starting secondary again was not highly tested in the scrimmage. The basic starting unit was:

CB: Stephon Morris
S: Malcolm Willis
S: Drew Astorino
CB: Chaz Powell

"It's hard to say what's there, it's a solid group, but they need to get worked more to see how they're coming along; particularly with Derrick Thomas, Stephon and Malcolm."

Monday is scheduled to serve as practice No. 13 with Wednesday as session No. 14 and the Blue-White Game on Saturday as the team's final spring practice. PSU is hoping to get outside on Monday after they having been couped up in Holuba for the earlier spring practices.

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